About Other Stories

Stuff I Do and Don’t Like in Stories

One of my favorite things about stories is that each individual person has aspects of storytelling that they love to see–and aspects they don’t love to see. Whether you’re talking about genres, tropes, themes, or more complicated concepts, our personal preferences can be really revealing. They also can guide us in finding new stories to explore and other people we can geek out with! So today, drawing from a few posts I wrote on my old blog over the years, I’m going to share some of my personal preferences: what I do and don’t like in stories.

Stuff I Like

  • Speculative fiction, especially in the YA category. My favorite genres, unsurprisingly, are the ones that I write: fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, mostly in the YA age category. Speculative horror especially is something I’m interested in exploring at the moment!
  • Good marginalized representation, especially of disabilities. Everyone deserves to have stories that reflect their lives, but many groups of people, due to their general marginalization in society, have also been marginalized in storytelling. I especially jump at the chance to read about disabilities, whether mental, physical, or even fantastical, because that’s a huge part of my life that I never used to see in stories. (Like many people, I prefer #ownvoices work because it’s a little more likely to avoid stereotypes, but there are exceptions!) Finding something that connects with the parts of you that feel most isolated and unrealized is always such a beautiful moment.
  • Religious themes without preachiness. Religion/spirituality is another important aspect of my own life that I’d like to see more in stories. I’m not looking for anything too preachy, but I love it when commercial fiction includes religious themes and/or religious representation. Fantasy religions can be especially fun to explore. I love me a scary eldritch god!
  • Complex family dynamics. Once again, family is something that really matters to me, but I also know how difficult and emotional family life can be. Fictional explorations of the horrific and beautiful realities of family relationships speak to me a lot.
  • Strong psychological or time-related twists. Good twists that shift the reader’s entire perspective on the story because of point-of-view wonkiness always get me. It doesn’t matter if I predicted them or not; I just want to explore how different realities can be created by where you’re standing.
  • Story retellings. Likewise, I really enjoy seeing the different ways different people can rewrite the same basic story, and knowing that something is part of a long cultural tradition gives it greater weight for me. So I’m a fan of stories that retell fairytales, folktales, mythology, classic literature, and the like!
  • Nontraditional formats. Art in general is something I’m enthusiastic about, so when authors play around with different formats to tell a story, my interest is piqued! I struggle with novels in verse and with audio-only formats, but otherwise, I love to see that creativity in action.
  • Magical women, especially with psychic-ish powers. Look, women are awesome, and I love seeing them wield a ton of power in a magical, non-physical way. (It’s kind of a metaphor for femininity being a valuable force instead of just masculinity, and there are also disability parallels.) I especially like telepathy and empathy because I’m very much about interiority and emotional connection.
  • Characters who love stories. I tend to shy away from stories that feature writers as characters, but I do love seeing book lovers or other people who are enthusiastic about stories. Like, hell yeah! Stories are awesome! Libraries are awesome! Art is awesome! I understand you, character.
  • Cats or other fun nonhuman sidekicks. Sometimes these are AIs, in science fiction, or talking objects, in fantasy, but generally, these sidekicks are nonsentient beings who hang out with the main characters and show off their quirky personalities. Cats especially I decided I love after seeing Captain Marvel. (I mean, I love cats anyway, but I need more of them in stories now.)
  • Robots with souls. In retrospect, my long-standing love for this trope may have to do with the fact that robot characters are often autistic-coded. Regardless, I am super into stories where a robot (or clone or other humanish nonhuman) proves themself to be a person with a soul of their own, basically, with emotions and dreams and especially romance. Not all those things are required for personhood, obviously, but I love to see them!
  • Slow burn and friends-to-lovers romances. Many common story tropes are romantic in nature, and these are two favorites of mine that fit well together. I’m a fan of a slow burn that ratchets up the tension and allows the emotional bond to grow, and watching two friends fall into romantic love makes my heart melt. I am, after all, demisexual. Mutual pining is also fun to see!
  • Romantic partners sleeping together non-sexually. Adding to that, I really love the soft, safe intimacy of (potential) romantic partners sleeping in the same room or even bed without it turning sexual. Like… it’s so nice. (Versions of this trope that are more about the growing tension are good too, LOL.) But basically, any romantic stuff where the characters are vulnerable with each other and that vulnerability is treated with respect and love and protectiveness from the other person–I want it.
  • Trying to “hack” emotions, especially romantic love, with logic and science. On the one hand, I like trying to make things make way more logical sense than they actually do. I am a categorizer and organizer. But on the other hand, I appreciate the utter chaos and randomness of love, how it can come from unexpected places and at any moment. I appreciate the utter chaos of humans. We are so weird, and I love it.

Stuff I Don’t Like

  • Historical fiction on well-trodden ground. Historical fiction is probably my weakest point when it comes to general genres. The stories in this genre that I do enjoy usually include speculative aspects and/or explore events or identities that are less represented in the genre and in history education as a whole. I’m just tired of World Wars, y’all.
  • Westerns. I don’t know what it is about these, but they don’t work for me. I guess it’s the often-historical vibe combined with the rough-and-tumble edge. The Mandalorian is the closest to an exception here I can think of, and it’s science fiction/fantasy with a cute baby, so.
  • Really gritty or grimdark vibes. As indicated above, gritty, rough-and-tumble stories aren’t my style, and I don’t need depressing grimdark stuff in my life either. I’m okay with a fair bit of violence, and emotionally dark stuff can be fine, but I usually want some ultimate ray of hope–or at least clearer lines about what’s right and wrong.
  • Bad marginalized representation. When there’s a lack of representation, that’s plenty bad enough. Adding harmful representation that leans on stereotypes and treats marginalized groups with disrespect, dehumanization, or general disregard is not okay. Now, it’s important to note that different people in marginalized groups have different experiences, and a story not reflecting your own personal experience does not mean it’s harmful. But I want to read honest portrayals that aren’t distorted by prejudice so I can learn from them. I don’t want unconscious biases to be reinforced.
  • Too much “masculinity”. As a woman who’s always been pretty feminine and as a fourth wave feminist both, I don’t want stories that only value traits currently seen as “masculine” in our culture. I don’t want female characters who only matter because they’re physically tough and unemotional. I don’t want male characters who have to always be either violent or uncaring in order to be taken seriously. There’s too much of that out there right now. I want women who are strong and feminine, and I want men who are soft and sweet.
  • Heavy sexual content. I can handle sexual content, but I’m pretty vanilla and get grossed out at times when there’s too much detail. So if I start feeling like a book is sacrificing the plot for the sex scenes, I’m not into it. I’m not into much visual nudity for the same reason. Obviously, this one is very much an individual preference!
  • Strong focus on sports/cooking. Look. I can’t do sports, and I hate cooking, so for me, it’s hard to get into stories that have a strong focus on those topics. It’s really a me thing.
  • Novels in verse/anthologies. As I said earlier, novels in verse, where the story is told entirely in poetry, don’t work for me most the time. The same is true with anthologies, which collect essays or short stories. I suppose the shorter pieces of writing just leave wanting more. It’s frustrating!
  • Audio-only formats. With audio-only stories like podcasts, my brain just struggles to process it properly. I think that’s an autism thing. I often get impatient, too, because I’m a fast reader–much faster than talking.
  • Characters who are writers. This is another one I mentioned earlier, but for me, when characters are writers, it feels too… self-inserty, I guess? It rings false to me somehow. Part of this might be because the first writer-character I ever read was Jo March in Little Women, and I was mad that she was so nonfeminine compared to me. It made little Kira feel like she wasn’t cool or tough enough to be a writer. So. 🤷‍♀️
  • Real-life animals as main characters. Again, this for me feels too false. The only exceptions are stories with cats as main characters, because I’ve lived my whole life with cats and I suppose they feel more like people to me than other animals do. Otherwise, my disbelief resists this suspension.
  • Teenage girls thinking they’re not good enough for a guy. Okay, so this has just been my life most of the time? And I don’t want it. I don’t want to suffer through it anymore. I want girls in stories to be confident or at least not self-hating when it comes to romance. Because I want to see them deserving that love without question. Teenage girls especially get enough crap already.
  • Animal deaths, especially violence towards cats. I can handle some of this, but I’m very sensitive about deaths of and violence towards animals, especially when it’s cats. Have I mentioned that I love cats yet? Because I do.

Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear about your own preferences in the comments. Again, these are individual likes and dislikes, so there’s no expectation of agreement and we don’t need to be starting any arguments, LOL. Related recommendations are also appreciated!

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About Other Stories

Classic Literature Curriculum Challenge

This blog post was first shared on my old website in March 2020, and I’ve made minor additions since then.

One of the most common discussions in the children’s literature community is that of the English curriculum, which primarily consists of classic literature. Unfortunately, the classic literature used in the canon often lacks important, diverse representation in both the characters and the authors. Diverse representation matters because different perspectives offer a greater depth of knowledge about life and because it offers everyone the chance to see themselves in stories, which can help with connecting to and enjoying those stories. It also shows an understanding of the value and realities of those who don’t fit the “defaults” our society has decided upon.

The deeper I got into my own English education, which included a BA in the subject, the more I myself became frustrated with the lack of diversity. That lack was all the worse because of how many of the authors and even stories we read in school were repeated, over and over. I hated that I’d read so little classic literature from marginalized people (or in a variety of genres or from a variety of countries) but that I’d read Nathaniel Hawthorne over six times in school–though I do like Nathaniel Hawthorne. Obviously, this problem is partly because of an inability to coordinate curriculum across schools and teachers to prevent repetition, but I think it also emphasizes the importance of teachers seeking different books to teach.

One of the solutions is to include more modern literature in the English curriculum–and I love that solution! I think it definitely should be done. I think it’s also worth considering how we can include more diverse classics, however. So I decided to challenge myself to come up with a list of classic books I enjoyed that could make up an English curriculum without repeating any author. Note that this list only focuses on full-length books, not shorter pieces that are also important in literature classes, and I define “classics” herein as books with a strong existing legacy that were published before the 21st century. Those that I was required to read anytime from elementary school through my English BA are marked with an asterisk.

We’ll start first with the nineteen books that I most strongly recommend for English curriculum, followed by a longer list of other solid options. They are listed by publication date.

Classic Literature Curriculum Challenge

1) Hamlet by William Shakespeare.* This is my Shakespearean pick: a historical tragedy written in 1603 about an indecisive Danish prince who is told by his father’s ghost that the uncle who married his mother and became the new king is, in fact, his father’s murderer. The story’s downward spiral into chaos and death has always fascinated me.

2) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.* I’ve enjoyed every Jane Austen book I’ve read, but this one is the most famousa regency romance published in 1813 that tells the hate-to-love story of an intelligent and independent young woman and a rich, awkward, and aloof young man who each have pride and prejudice that adds strife to their relationship. Jane Austen’s famous wit and feminist social commentary are well-displayed in this novel!

3) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.* One cannot ignore the 1818 philosophical and gothic masterpiece said to be the first English science fiction. Mary Shelley was a teenage mother stuck inside because of bad weather when she wrote this famous story, about a doctorate student who decides to create life by stitching together pieces of corpses, only to run away in horror when faced with his innocent, lonely creation. 

​4) The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. This chaotic, ridiculous adventure novel from 1844 was written by a quarter-Black Frenchman, and it is anything but boring. In it, three musketeers in the service of the King, plus a fourth newcomer, plunge into a complex personal-political drama that reveals the excess privilege of the aristocracy and the general existence of human folly. This book carries many hallmarks of the Romantic era, which is kinda my thing!

5) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.* I wrote both my high school senior thesis and my English undergraduate thesis on this gothic novel from 1847, which tells you about my level of interest in it. The story follows two families with estates on the dark Yorkshire moors. They fall together in a horrific generational cycle of violent abuse and manipulation, centered around a ferociously passionate romance between adopted siblings. Both brutal and beautiful, this story combines important truth with hints of the supernatural.

6) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.* Like I said, I do honestly love Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing. His most famous piece, a historical novel published in 1850, tells the story of a 17th century Puritan woman who experiences lifelong public shaming after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The story dances beautifully on the line between fantasy and reality as it examines important American social issues revealed through the drama of many guilty parties.

7) Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs.* American slave narratives are overemphasized compared to other stories by and about Black people, but it’s worth reading at least one of these autobiographical accounts. I recommend this slave narrative from 1861, which exposes harsh truths about morality and privilege. The intersection between blackness and femaleness is particularly notable. Harriet Ann Jacobs also suffered from chronic health issues due to her experience.

8) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo loved to go off on long tangential rants, but I admire his interest in exposing injustice. This historical novel published in 1862, which takes place just before the famously bloody French Revolution, may be his most well-known work. (I mean, there’s a musical and everything.) It’s an incredible read with high-quality character descriptions. The story follows a man on parole for stealing bread who escapes into hiding to protect a little girl after her mother dies because of poverty-induced prostitution.

9) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.* Russian literature has its place both in my heart and in the world of classics. This literary novel from 1866 is my favorite. It’s about a young man who murders a pawnbroker and her innocent sister for money, thinking it justified by the “greater good,” and who then descends into a complicated existence full of crime, injustice, and Christianity that eventually convinces him to repent. (Fyodor Dostoevsky had epilepsy, which means this book counts partly for disability representation too.)

10) The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Wilkie Collins is an underrated favorite of mine. He was a surprisingly forward-thinking British author afflicted with a chronic form of arthritis called gout. This detective mystery novel from 1868, one of the first such stories in English, may be his best. It showcases his incredible skill with characterization through multiple perspectives, each possessing a unique voice. The story centers on the theft of an Indian diamond from a British household–a diamond that was first stolen from a shrine during the British occupation of India.

11) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.* Irish writer Oscar Wilde, who was famously and marvelously gay, authored many clever stories. My favorite is this horror novel from 1890. It follows a young man who remains forever beautiful even as he falls into corruption, while his painted portrait takes on the burden of his true ugliness. It’s simple and strange, and I love it.

12) Trifles by Susan Glaspell.* This was a required read in one of my classes every single year I was in college, and it is absolutely worth the one-time read proposed by this list. Whether you choose the prose or the play version, this American feminist murder mystery from 1916 presents a brilliant look at the question of “justice” for marginalized people.

13) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.* A true American classic in which both dreams and facades die, this literary novel from 1925 shows the darkness that underlay much of the elaborate decadence of the 1920s. I love Jay Gatsby, even though he’s a actually metaphor for the failures of my own romantic idealism, and the tragic nature of this story really appeals to me. So on this list it goes!

14) Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie is considered the English queen of crime, and I think her most inspired idea was making a gossipy elderly woman the “detective” in a series. This mystery novel, published in 1930, is the first Miss Marple mystery, where the old spinster solves the murder of a thoroughly despised town magistrate. It’s great stuff!

15) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.* This may be the most unoriginal selection on this list, since most Americans consider it to be a great classic. Nevertheless, I’ll include this historical fiction novel, published in 1960, which examines a variety of marginalized and privileged identities through the eyes of a white girl growing up in 1930s Alabama. The book inspires so much thought that I wrote a whole blog post analyzing it, which I’ll share another time. 

16) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.* This children’s speculative fiction novel, published in 1962, has already inspired and bolstered many women and girls in their academic and scientific aspirations. It tells the story of an awkward preteen girl who goes on an intergalactic journey, along with her genius little brother and a likable preteen boy, to save her missing father from a terrible evil. This book is a classic in sci-fi/fantasy, well worth reading.

17) The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath’s struggle with depression, which eventually led to an early death by suicide, inspired this semi-autobiographical novel from 1963 about a college-age woman’s mental breakdown. I was stunned by how fascinating and relatable I found this book when I first read it, and I desperately wish it had been included in my school curriculum. 

18) Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. This stunningly vivid creative nonfiction volume from 1976 brings to life the family history of Alex Haley, a Black man who was able to trace his roots back to Africa. I have an interest in family history, and I recognize that there’s particular difficulty in such research for descendants of American slaves. To me, this book is a true triumph, and it ought to be read by everyone.

19) Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This isn’t my favorite of Octavia Butler’s books, but it is the most well-known and likely the most accessible for secondary education students. The prescient science fiction novel, published in 1993, presents a 2026 dystopian America in the midst of which a young Black woman with hyperempathy starts an entire new religion. It’s an interesting story, and the sequel is even better. It also opens up a pathway for readers into all the works of Octavia Butler and, further, into speculative fiction by and about Black women in general!

The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Medea by Euripedes*
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Paradise Lost by John Milton*
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Benito Cereno by Herman Melville*
Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen​*
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
Dracula by Bram Stoker*
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf*
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell*
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck*
The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster*
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Counter-Clock World by Philip K. Dick
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the America West by Dee Brown
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Carrie by Stephen King
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Frindle by Andrew Clements*

What classics have you enjoyed that you think should be in the curriculum? I especially welcome more diverse picks that I’m not yet aware of!

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About Other Stories · About Writing

Inception’s Lesson for Novelists

Today, I’d like to share an analysis of the movie Inception that I posted on my original blog in December 2013. I’ve made some minor corrections, but otherwise, this is the same as it was then.

Inception poster: Four men and one woman with guns standing around on a road that's weirdly folded

A common theory states that the popular movie Inception, directed, written, and produced by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo DiCaprio (plus half the cast of the Dark Knight trilogy), is in fact Nolan’s metaphor for film-making. If you haven’t seen Inception, I recommend you stop reading now and go watch it a) because there are tons of spoilers in this post and b) because it’s one of my favorite movies and thus you must watch it.

Basically, Inception is a science fiction movie about an “extractor” who gets into dreams to steal ideas/secrets/information. He’s been separated from his family because of this ability and is now doing it illegally. In Inception, he’s given the task to instead implant an idea, which is considered impossible, and is told that in return for completing the mission he will be allowed to return home.

If you want to know more about the film-making theory, here’s one article about it. As I said, it’s very commonly accepted. What I’m going to talk about today is a slightly altered angle on the topic. Because the arts are so intermingled, I think it is very possible to make a case that Inception is also about writing. Here’s how it reflects the process of writing a novel.


In the film-making theory, each character has a specific part to play that relates directly to the roles of film-making. Because novel-writing is a slightly more solitary task, many of these characters can be combined to represent different personas that the author takes on in order to build the perfect story.

The main character, Dominick Cobb, played by Leo DiCaprio, is said to reflect Nolan himself, i.e., the producer. In terms of the writing metaphor, Cobb thus represents the core author persona. Cobb is the leader of extraction missions and of the inception. As stated in the above-linked article, “Cobb can literally create a whole new world. Not only does he determine how he wants his target to feel, not only does he invent a story to inspire these feeling, but he also supervises the creation of an environment… in which his story will unfold.” 

Dominick Cobb

Cobb has many qualities of the stereotypical author. He has a tough life and an even worse past, which is common among artists. He struggles often with what’s real and what isn’t, which is a theme I’ll address later on. He is, in the end, alone and suffering. He makes the hardest decisions and deals with the most heartbreak of all the characters in the movie because he’s the one with the strength to do it. 


In the film-making metaphor, Cobb’s right-hand man, Arthur, played by Joseph Gordan-Levitt, stands in for the writer/director. In this metaphor, he is merely a different side of the author. Arthur is the most practical and logical member of the extraction team, focused on how to best put the scenarios presented by Cobb into effect. He balances Cobb’s more wildly human, passionate, and conflicted nature with clean-cut decisions. Arthur also has a bit of a critical and sarcastic edge. 

As such, Arthur is the editor persona, the side of the author that balances and counteracts the other personas by presenting logic that organizes Cobb’s ideas and by questioning anything that Cobb is starting to run too far with. This persona creates the parameters of the story and works to keep those parameters running.

Ariadne, played by Elliot Page, is often overlooked in the film-making theory. Fans argue over whether she represents the writer or the production designer, all the while failing to see her most key role in the movie. Yes, she was brought into the extraction team to design and build the setting of the dreams, but this is not the reason she features so predominantly in the story. Her job did not require her to enter the inception. She chose to enter it because she alone knew what Cobb was facing and she needed to be there to help him deal with his emotions while protecting the rest of the team from the dangers his subconscious presented.


Thus, Ariadne is the final member of the author’s triad of psyches, the counselor persona. This side of the author contrasts the editor persona by working with the author’s emotions and the deeper meanings that they bring into the story, where the editor persona would overlook or shut those feelings down. The counselor persona helps the author overcome their personal problems while protecting the core of the story itself. The name “Ariadne” originates from the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, in which Ariadne is a princess who guides Theseus out of the Labyrinth. The counselor persona (and this Inception character) fits this exactly, pulling the author through the twists and turns of their story in order to reach the purest truth at the end.

Besides the core three, there are three other members of the extraction team, plus one important character outside the team.


First, there is Saito, played by Ken Watanabe, the man who requests the inception in the first place. Saito provides the money and the proper incentive for Cobb. In the film-making theory, he represents the studio executive, who pays for the creation of the movie. In the novel-writing theory, he instead represents the publisher, who grants the author the chance to do something real with their work, something that will give them the creative catharsis they desire, in return for what the publisher wants, which is business success. 

Eames, played by Tom Hardy, is a forger brought into the inception in order to pretend to be the subject’s godfather. This trick is used to implant the idea in the most vulnerable place of the subject’s mind. In the film-making theory, he is the actorin novel-writing, he is the basic frame of the main character. Notably, as the inception progresses, Eames no longer has to act as the subject’s godfather. The godfather begins appearing himself as a separate identity in the dream, a reflection of the subject’s own mind. This represents one of the most important parts of writing: the ideal character, after being created, takes on a life of their own and begins making decisions that the author leads them into but cannot and should not control.


The final member of the team, Yusuf, played by Dileep Rao, is also much debated in terms of the film-making theory. He’s a bumbling side character brought onto the team partially because they needed an extra hand to hold the inception in place, but predominantly because he created a sedative that keeps the subject locked into the near-impossible three-layer dream. Most people have concluded he represents special effects or perhaps production design, and while that might be true, I see him as actually an abstract conceptsuspension of belief, the phenomenon that allows readers to enter a story where impossible things happen and believe in those things for the sake of the story.

The final character to examine is the subject of the inception, Robert Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy. Saito seeks out Cobb because he needs Fischer to come to a momentous business decision. The purpose of the inception is to implant the idea in Fischer’s head in a way that will make it truly take. Fischer thus, very obviously, represents the audience. Fan theorists note that the way Cobb’s attitude towards Fischer changes throughout the movie, from impersonality to actual understanding and even empathy, reflects how the producer/author, views the audience as time passes in the artistic process.

Robert Fischer


Inception begins rather confusingly with an old man and guns and Leo DiCaprio on a beach. This scene does not make sense until much later, but it’s presented first as a hearkening to the “dream within a dream” concept of the entire inception, showing how fine the line can be between reality and fantasy.

Then we move back to the actual beginning, where Arthur and Cobb are working to steal information from Saito’s mind. One of their team members fails them, and a woman named Mal shows up to betray Cobb. Because of this, Cobb and Arthur fail to acquire the information. However, Saito has in fact been auditioning them. He presents his offer: if Cobb can create the inception to convince Fischer to break up his dying father’s company, Saito will give Cobb the option to go home again.

It has been pointed out by theorists that home represents not just the producer’s personal life, but also his creative fulfillment. Though at the beginning we don’t know what it is that’s keeping Cobb from home, it’s fairly clear it has something to do with his work. This point will be discussed more later.

Cobb assembles a new team, keeping Arthur by his side and recruiting important characters like Ariadne. Through Ariadne’s lessons, we learn about how the extractions work and about the mechanics of dream-building. One important fact is that the dreams built by the extractors are filled by people created by the subject’s subconscious. This is a reflection on how readers play a large part in the interpretation of a story.

Another subject of interest appears after Ariadne builds a bridge in the dream taken directly from her own memory. Here, Cobb warns Ariadne not to use full scenes from her life, only pieces. This is a very important issue in writing as well. The author cannot help but include their experiences in their writing, but this must be done subtly or the story will fail. Soon after this, Ariadne goes too far in changing the setting of the dream, and the subconsciously created people attack her. This is a further statement on suspension of disbelief. If you take it too far, the reader’s mind will turn on the author. 

Inception poster featuring the team on collapsing city streets

Ariadne also creates for herself a totem, which is a unique object that tells her whether she’s in a dream or not. The totem is an important motif in Inception. It further centers the idea of reality vs. fantasy, that the author must work to stay aware of the lines between their real life and the story they are creating. Also of note is that the only three totems we actually see are the ones that belong to the main trio of the author’s psyche: Cobb, Arthur, and Ariadne; the top, the die, and the chess piece.

One more fact we learn from Ariadne’s training is that time in a dream moves more quickly. This is true as well for stories, which can span across years of time while in real life, only hours have passed. (It also takes way longer to create a novel than it does to read it, as you’ll know if you have any idea of the publishing process.)

At this point, the team begins planning the inception. It’s pointed out that the only way to make the idea legitimately take is to make Fischer believe it’s his own. In order to do this, they have to go to the heart and seek out a way to affect his emotions. Cobb insists that positive emotion, some sort of catharsis in the strained relationship between Fischer and his dying father, is the best way to do this, a point that might be argued. But people do love a happy ending.

As time passes, Ariadne grows more and more curious about Cobb’s subconscious. She’s seen Mal once already and finds the situation worrisome. So she connects herself into Cobb’s dreams, which are actually comprised of a series of moments that he regrets. In this, Ariadne learns of Cobb’s dark past: how Mal, his wife, went mad and killed herself, leaving behind evidence that Cobb had murdered her and forcing him to leave his children behind. Since then, Cobb’s personal life has intruded on his work, causing havoc. Horrified, Ariadne insists that she accompany the team into the inception in order to protect everyone from Cobb’s mind.

When Fischer’s father dies, Saito arranges for the team to be taken to the place of Fischer’s father’s funeral. They sedate Fischer and go into the first layer of the dream. Here, they kidnap Fischer, but during the process, Cobb’s subconscious creates a train where it shouldn’t. The team is then attacked by Fischer’s subconscious, which has been trained to recognize intruders. This, as has been pointed out by others, is a commentary on how audiences today are more aware of the media and harder to hold in a suspension of disbeliefSaito, who insisted upon coming into the inception, is shot and badly wounded. Normally, if you’re killed in a dream, you wake up, but because of the sedation they’re using, the dreamer will instead become trapped in Limbo, deep unconstructed dream space. The fact that Saito is placed in danger after having forced his way into the inception is said to mean that higher-up business people (like studio executives or publishing companies) shouldn’t risk interfering with the creative process.

With this urgent problem, the inception is forced into double-time. Eames, disguised as Fischer’s trusted godfather, Robert Browning, pretends that the kidnappers are torturing him because they want the code to Fischer’s father’s safe, in which there is a new will that would split up the company. This is where the first part of the idea is planted: that Fischer’s father doesn’t want Fischer to keep the company intact. Fischer indicates at this point that he believes his father was disappointed in him. In order to appease the “kidnappers,” however, he gives the team a random set of numbers.

At this point, the team places Fischer in a car and begin driving towards a bridge. While Yusuf drives, the rest of the team takes Fischer down into the second dream level, where time moves still slower. In this level, Cobb reveals to Fischer that they are in a dream, but places himself in the role of a trusted representative from Fischer’s subconscious. This speaks again of the growing complexity of creating fictional worlds in a culture that fights suspension of disbelief. The author must convince the reader that they are only reflecting the psyche of the reader, not working towards another motive. 

Cobb leads Fischer back to his team, and they set up in a hotel room, at which point Robert Browning appears, no longer played by Eames but now created by Fischer’s own mind. The new twist is that Browning was in fact working with the kidnappers to gain the code so that he could hide the will. Browning states that he didn’t want Fischer to rise to his father’s “last taunt”, but Cobb says that Fischer is lying.

Inception poster featuring Cobb standing in water on city streets

The team then tells Fischer he should attempt an extraction on Browning. In this way, they make it so that Fischer is actually helping them infiltrate his own mind. Arthur stays behind in level two while all the others move on to three. Here, the team splits up to enter a fortress in a snowy mountain area where, supposedly, Browning is keeping the secret Fischer needs to find. In the midst of this, however, things go wrong again, and the “kick” meant to wake them up goes off too early. The team makes a decision to try to hit the next kick, and Arthur, on the second level, constructs a new kick of his own using an elevator. The team then tells Fischer he should attempt an extraction on Browning. In this way, they make it so that Fischer is actually helping them infiltrate his own mind. Arthur stays behind in level two while all the others move on to three. Fischer and the team cut through the fortress, but then Mal appears and kills Fischer, sending him down into Limbo.

As Cobb and Ariadne arrive, Saito also dies, and they realize they have to enter Limbo in order to save both Fischer and Saito. As they do so, Cobb reveals more of his own past. Before Mal had killed herself, she and Cobb had entered Limbo, spending almost a lifetime there building a fantasy world. They had killed themselves finally in order to leave Limbo, but Mal, still believing they were in their dreams, had killed herself again to get back to “reality.” The evidence she’d left against Cobb was designed to make him join her, a trick which failed but forced him into illegal operations away from home.

Cobb and Ariadne find Fischer being held captive by Mal in a home Cobb and Mal built, and the final confrontation occurs. Cobb finally admits that he is the reason that Mal killed herself. Mal wanted to stay in Limbo, believing it to be real, and Cobb performed an inception to make her realize it wasn’t. But when they came back to reality, the idea was still there, and it drove Mal to madness. The theme behind this is fairly clear: ideas are incredibly powerful and can thus be dangerous. 

Cobb orders Ariadne to escape Limbo with Fischer when the kick comes and tells her that he is done being haunted by Mal. He will seek out Saito and find a way for them to both return to reality. So Ariadne kills herself, Mal, and Fischer and returns with Fischer to the third dream level.

On that level, Fischer faces a wall with a key code. He enters the code he spoke in the first dream level, and it opens to reveal his dying father. As Ariadne watches, Fischer speaks with his father, who says that he is disappointed, not because Fischer wasn’t like him, but because Fischer was trying to be. This implants the final part of the idea, that Fischer’s own father wants him to break up the company and make his own way in the world. The final kicks go off, and most of the group wakes up. 

We return then to the first scene, where Cobb confronts an aged Saito in Limbo, asking him to take a leap of faith and come with him back to reality. Saito agrees, and he and Cobb awake on the plane a bit later than the others. Cobb goes through the airport into America and returns home at last. He begin spinning his totem top, but then his children cry out in joy, and he runs to them, leaving the top spinning on the table. The ending throws a lot of people off because it leaves the question open as to whether Cobb is actually in reality or not. The point, as other theorists have remarked, isn’t whether it’s real or not; it’s that Cobb doesn’t stay to see. He no longer cares. The catharsis that occurs in the dream is real, even if the dream wasn’t, and that’s all that matters now. 

(I would like, however, to affirm another fan theory: some people have pointed out that the top couldn’t have been Cobb’s totem because it started out as Mal’s. They note that his wedding band appears in scenes where he’s dreaming and is gone in reality. In the last scene, the wedding band isn’t there. So the ring is his actual totem, and in the end, he is really back home. It’s a helpful note for people who need something more definite, LOL.)



In that analysis, you may have noticed that I skipped around the more personal conflict, where Mal appears from Cobb’s subconscious and causes chaos and death as Cobb struggles to confront her. Let’s talk about that now!

As I said before, Cobb’s home represents creative fulfillment. If that’s so, then what does Mal represent in her constant thwarting of this goal? Well, in another article, the author proposes that Mal represents the Muse. The conflict forces Cobb to choose between Mal and Fischer, or the Muse and the audience. In other words, the producer must choose between his own personal vision, directed by the Muse, and the effect the story actually has on the audience. While this isn’t a bad theory in terms of film-making, I have a slightly different (but compatible) view.

I believe that Mal represents Cobb’s personal life. A huge issue throughout the movie, and not just with Mal, is that Cobb’s subconscious keeps leaking into the dream. Basically, he struggles to keep his personal life from destroying the story. When you’re writing a novel, it is hard to find the right balance with how much of your own emotional experience to put into it. The line is thin between a good story that uses deep truth bolstered by personal feeling to affect readers and a desperate novel-writing therapy exercise where the author tries to fix everything in their life by “escaping” from reality. I know because I’ve struggled with it when writing many of my books. It’s not wrong to cope with your personal problems through writing–that’s a lot of what you’re there to do, hence the importance of the counselor persona–but for the sake of good storytelling, you have to focus on the book, not what’s happening in your own life. You have to pick Fischer over Mal, Saito over Mal, home over Mal.

At the beginning of the movie, Cobb has let his personal life take over too much and has thereby lost his creative fulfillment. The only way to get it back is to get over Mal and focus instead on completing the inception. That is the central meaning of this movie. It’s the truth for which Inception itself became an inception in our lives.

Images via IMDB.

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About My Books

My First Recorded Novel Attempt

When I first decided to become a novelist, around the age of nine, I made various attempts that failed to reach novel-length. (I defined that as “100 pages” then.) Most of these stories were lost a long time ago, but in October 2013, I shared the first novel attempt that I actually have a record of on my original blog. I’m sharing that again here today! This story is called The SuperSonics. It was inspired by my then-obsession with the Weather Channel and stars me and my best friends at the time. Last names and location have been removed, but otherwise, this is a genuine, unedited piece of childhood writing.



“Why do I feel this way?” asked Kira.

“I feel it, too,” chimed in Amy and LaPriel.

​Kira is a 12-year-old girl with long, gold, wavy hair and blue eyes. She loves to write. She has a beautiful kitten called Angel who calms her down. 

Her best friends are Amy and LaPriel. They both have brown hair and brown eyes. LaPriel is thin and shy, and Amy is average and totally not shy.

Kira, the main character, has 2 little brothers, one 9 and one 6.

I should go back to the beginning. 


“Hey guys!” called Kira as she approached the swing set. 

“Hey!” answered Amy. Kira hopped on the swing next to Amy.

“First day of November. Cold and no more daylight,” she said happily.

“Yeah,” sighed LaPriel.

“Don’t you love to swing?” asked a happy Amy.

“Yeah,” said Kira dreamily. “It’s like flying.”

10 minutes later, the bell rang. Kira went inside, mumbling, “Math, oh great.”

At recess they noticed dark clouds in the distance. I mean, really dark clouds. Black. Pitch black with a touch of green.

“That’s weird,” said Kira.

“Yeah…,” Amy said distractedly.

“Yep, wow, weird,” said LaPriel with a pale face.

“Hmm,” said a confused Kira. “Weird. Let’s wait until tomorrow to see what happens.”


That morning, Kira watched the news.

“Nothing!” she exclaimed to herself. “How could that be? The clouds are now covering the mountains!”

Her mother, however, sent her to school.

At school, she and all her friends were silent through the math class they all took. At recess, they began to speak.

“Why do I feel this way?” asked Kira.

“I feel it, too,” chimed in Amy and LaPriel. It was a cold weird feeling. The ground seemed to quiver. They had a big headache, and felt dizzy, too, but no one else had this feeling. 

“Why? Why are we they only ones to be submitted to this torture?” asked a very angry Kira. “Why?”

“We don’t know. We don’t like it, either,” said Amy. LaPriel nodded. Then the bell rang for lunch. 

 “Oh, great. What’s for lunch?” said Amy with a groan.

“Today is Beef Stew. The boys are going to go crazy,” said a harassed LaPriel. 

Sure enough, they began yelling, “Poop soup! Poop soup!”

“Ugh,” said Kira, distracted for a minute. Then the eerie feeling came over her again. 

She quickly got her “poop soup” lunch and sat down.

“What should we do?” said Amy as she and LaPriel sat down with their lunch. “About the feeling and the poop soup, heh hah.”

“I’m going to call Lisa,” said Kira. Lisa was Kira’s cousin, a science master who could explain everything.

“I hope she knows,” said LaPriel.

​“She will,” answered Kira.


“What!” screeched Kira into the phone. “No, no, no. What? Oh. Really? Really! Well, I guess.” She hung up. “Lisa says that we are SuperSonics!”


“People who can tell if something bad is gonna happen.”

“Oh man. That means something bad! If only we knew what!”

That night, Kira had a vivid dream. Snow covered the town and it froze everyone in her dream. Soon, her hometown was no more.

Kira ran to school. When she reached Amy and LaPriel, she said, “I know what the eerie feeling means!” She heard two other voices say the same thing.

“How come you know?” they said together. They all began to giggle.

“I guess we all had the same dream!” Then Kira looked serious. “We have to tell people before it happens.”  

The next day was Saturday. Kira called Amy and LaPriel and asked them to come over.

“Today, we walk around and tell people.”

For an hour, they walked around. When they stopped, the whole town knew, saw the dark clouds were dangerous.

The news ran it. After 1 more hour, it began to snow.

“Everyone must evacuate,” said the news guy. Soon the whole town was on the move.

“Get everything important you can,” said Kira earnestly into the camera.

“Soon nothing will be here!” exclaimed Amy.

“Hurry!” yelled LaPriel.

“And don’t leave any pets behind. Anyone or anything that stays will freeze to death,” added Kira.

“Hurry!” they said altogether.

Kira ran home and began to pack. Two outfits, one dress outfit, PJs, Angel and her cat toys, blankies, Kirsten + Britta dolls, diaries, books. She packed hurriedly. 

Soon they were all leaving.

“Gone. Good-bye. Gone. Good-bye,” mumbled Kira.


Slowly they drove away from the town that was steadily becoming snow covered.

Two hours later, in the next city, Kira’s grandma rejoiced.

“I’m so glad you’re here! So, so, so glad! What a wonderful thing! My grandkid saving lives! SuperSonic! Wow!” she cried happily. Kira smiled at her own face on the news.

Hours and hours passed, Kira reading and thinking.

She babbled happily as soon as Amy and LaPriel came over.

“Gosh. This is weird. We will always be important to our community now. Always,” she said.

The weatherman monitored the weather. A day passed. Then the snow stopped. Everyone drove home.

Two hours again, then home. 9 feet of crunchy thick snow. It was about –15 degrees. Slowly, Kira swiveled her head to see the plain of deep snow.

“We will recover,” she said confidently.

A week later, the snow mountain was an ocean. Everyone either stayed inside a high room, or swam around everywhere in their swimming suits. It was kind of funny, but scary to the people who couldn’t swim.

A month later, all that was left of the ocean was a river in the canyon and puddles in the street. Windows in houses were broken, shingles were gone, and anything in lower floors were gone.

“We will recover,” said Kira, and she was right. People all over were fixing windows and roofs and replacing semi-important things that were gone.

“Soon the town will be back to normal,” she said happily, walking into the sunlight.

Awwwww. It’s so sweet.  😊

I had a whole series of disasters planned for this story, but it kind of died off when I realized I couldn’t make it to 100 pages. I wouldn’t achieve that until sixth grade. But you gotta start somewhere!

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About Writing

The Publishing Process

Today’s post was originally published in September 2012 on my old blog and has undergone minor edits. It provides an overview of the traditional novel publishing process for anyone who wants to brush up on the basics! Authors may deviate from this path in a variety of ways, but this is the standard journey.

White feminine hands typing on a typewriter on a wooden desk with baby's breath in a vase nearby and written pages

1) Write a novel. Contrary to popular belief, you do have to have a completed book before you try to publish it, haha. Nonfiction operates on proposals and is a whole other kind of process, but for fiction, you want to have the manuscript ready first.

2) Edit your novel. Most of writing is, in fact, editing. You want your work to be as polished and awesome as possible before you start putting it out there. You are selling this to the industry, and they want as great of a piece as they can get. Yes, they’re going to do a lot of editing themselves. No, that does not mean you can let it slide. Make the best product you can on your own.

Start by stepping away from your work once you’ve finished your first draft. It’s important to get some space to improve your perspective. You won’t be able to see your mistakes until you’ve had some time away from them. Come back later to get the job done.

One important part of the editing process is getting readers who can offer even more perspective. Be sure to seek out varied views from people with different skill areas, some of whom tend to be harsher and some of whom tend to be more complimentary. Then look over the responses, consider what you want from your story, and figure out what you need to change.

It’s a good idea to start with the bigger storyline stuff before you get down to editing the exact wording. Over time, as you write and edit new manuscripts, you’ll also find your own special writerly weaknesses and learn how to counter them. For example, I am a plot-rusher. I’m so excited about the big picture and seeing what happens that I tend to leave out important filler. So in edits, I get to go back and fill it in! When it comes to words that are overused or that weaken the prose, like those listed in The Elements of Style, my personal weaknesses are passive voice and iterations of the words “look” and “eyes.” There are lots of tools online that can help you find yours, including word cloud apps!

Once you run out of notable issues to edit, it’s time to move to the next step.

3) Finalize the pitch material.
You may actually find it helpful to draft these documents while you’re in the midst of the previous two steps, but whether or not you do that, you need to polish them afterwards. These documents are key. They’re what you send to literary agents in order to obtain their interest in representing you. Because pitch material is all about summarizing, organizing, and marketing your ideas, it has the side effect of clarifying your ideas. Getting it right is so important.

Here’s what you need:

  • a query letter
  • a plot synopsis
  • a finished manuscript

This step is where you fully switch from artist to business thinking, which means being smart, professional, and exact. It’s similar to what’s required when applying for a regular job. A query letter is a mix between a cover letter and a project proposal. A plot synopsis is like a more detailed project proposal. Samples are often requested, which is why you need that book ready! You also may be asked for an author bio or a marketing plan, and if you attend special writerly events, you’ll have to condense your query letter down even further: 140 characters for a Twitter pitch online or a minute-long verbal “elevator pitch.”

The query letter is the central piece here. It begins with a pitch of your manuscript (make it exciting, specific, but professional, like on the inside flap of a published book), either followed or preceded by a paragraph stating the title, category/genre, word count, and a couple of comparable titles. You don’t want comps that are so blockbuster-popular that you’ll sound egotistical, but you want some well-written, recent titles that have a similar theme, style, and/or genre as your manuscript. Then include a paragraph with any writing credits you may have, followed by a closing where you offer the manuscript to the agent and thank them. You may also want to share your reason for choosing that particular agent to send to. Make sure that your final query is one page only! 

There are all sorts of resources online to help you write a top-notch query, but I recommend seeking out other writers who are familiar with the process, at places like WriteOnCon, to specifically critique yours.

4) Choose who to send your materials out to.
This step involves a lot of research. There’s no point in marketing your novel if you’re marketing it to the wrong people. It’s important, first, to know that it is very rare to get a publishing deal without a literary agent as an intermediary. The agents select the clients whose work they most love, prepare them more, and then send them to editors at publishing companies, who know that these novels are higher quality because the agent chose them. Agents also assist with the entire rest of the process, including contract negotiations, which makes them indispensable.

Second, Writer’s Market and the website QueryTracker are two great reference tools that can help you find agents. Each agent has different genres they specialize in. Narrow down the field to the agents that work with your novel type and look at their websites. Be sure you’re considering not just the overall agency, but the individual agents to find which one fits you best. You will be expected to address that person directly in your letter, and it’s to your advantage to know a good bit about them. Check places like Writer Beware and Absolute Write online to make sure they aren’t scamming you. Find with whom the agents have worked and what books they’ve sold. You can also look at their social media to see how they interact publicly with others.

Third, once you have a list of agents you’d like to work with, find what their submission requirements are. Each one will have slightly different rules about which materials they want sent where, and they’ll have different response times. (Many of them are so busy they don’t respond at all unless they want to read more.) Get that information and follow it to the letter. Again, professionalism! Be the person others want to work with.

5) Send out your work.
Once you’re ready, I recommend sending out to a handful of agents at a time. You want to query multiple agents because you’re very unlikely to get a yes the first few times, but not too many agents because it can get confusing and you need time to correct your materials based on the responses. Keep track in a spreadsheet so you know if they’ve exceeded their response time and if it’s time to a) check in or b) move on, depending on what their website says. 

Remember that you will be rejected. It happens to all of us. For example, I’ve been rejected 111 times so far! If I’m not your prime example, you can look up any author and see what their experience was like. Rejection happens. It’s part of the process. Be strong, never give up on becoming a published author, but be ready to move on to another manuscript if the time comes.

If they haven’t asked for the full manuscript up front, which is rare, agents who are interested will ask for that once they read your query. Based on where in the process you’re getting rejected most often–whether it’s with the query, the first few chapters, or the full manuscript–you can figure out where you need to focus your edits. Reconsider your materials. Get more opinions from people you trust. A lot does depend on the current market and individual taste. Agents may also ask for a revise and resubmit (R&R), where you edit your manuscript based on their critiques and they check whether it’s right for them afterwards. You don’t have to make those edits if they don’t feel right for you–just move on to somebody else.

If it’s really just not happening, you might reach a point where you have to “trunk” that novel. If you’ve been writing another book while you’re been querying (which you should do!), you can move on to that one. Sometimes a manuscript you write ends up just being for you. That’s valuable in so many ways, so don’t feel bad that it wasn’t meant for more. Move forward until you get to the book that does work.

6) Here’s what happens after an agent makes an offer.
Hopefully, you’ll reach a point where one or more agents decide they want to represent you. At this point, you need to notify the others who have not yet responded. There will be a phone call so you and the agent can discuss your visions for the manuscript and your future career. That’ll help you figure out if you’re the right fit for each other. Your agent is your business partner, so you need to be able to communicate with and trust them. Once you and an agent officially decide to work together, with a signed contract and all, take a moment to celebrate! This is such an important step forward. (One I haven’t yet reached myself!)

Done celebrating? Okay. This is a business relationship, and like all relationships, it takes mutual work. You might do some editing together. Then your agent will start sending out to editors at publishing houses who the agent sees as a good fit–and you’ll get more rejections in the process. With luck, you’ll find the right editor, but things can go wrong. You might still have to move on to a different manuscript. It’s also possible that someone might end up breaking the writer/agent contract, and you’ll have to start over. This is a difficult, messy industry, but if you’re really here for this, it’s worth it.

Once you’ve negotiated and signed a contract with a publisher (which requires the okay from multiple editors, usually), there are still more ways it can go wrong. It often takes a year or two for the book to actually hit the market because there are multiple levels of editing that you have to undergo along with designing and formatting and marketing. Your agent will help you through it all. Together, you and your publishing team will hopefully be able to kick off your authorly career!

Then you can look at how far you’ve come. You made it to publication. YOU WIN! (I mean, you still have a whole career to manage, and there are a million more ways it can go wrong. Your book sales will determine how likely you are to get published again, and you don’t have much power over that! The best determiner is actually how much marketing the publisher chooses to do for your book. There’s also all sorts of complications with payment schedules and advances and taxes and a sad lack of health insurance. But that’s life! This moment is still monumental and deserves congratulations.)

Thanks for reading! I hope this overview proves to be of assistance to my fellow writers tramping through the publishing wilds. I’ll be back again later!

Image via rawpixel.com.

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About Other Stories

Twilight and Mormon Theology

It’s time today for another repost from my old blog! This was originally shared in August 2014 and has been edited since then. Here, I discuss Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series from the perspective of Mormon theology.

Ever since it came out, Twilight has inspired a lot of love and a lot of hate. There’s plenty of existing discussion.

In terms of love, Twilight speaks to a lot of women lacking in confidence who are yearning for a special, old-fashioned romance all their own. I adored the series when I was in middle school, which is when I was both struggling and yearning the most. (Yay middle school!) It was a beautiful escape for me that included one of my favorite tropes: sharing a bed nonsexually. It also, as many YA writers will tell you, did a lot for the world of teen literature, just as Harry Potter did for children’s literature.

In terms of hate, Twilight does have a lot of problematic content. For example, Bella and Edward’s relationship sets off a lot of red flags for domestic abuse. It has some other misogyny too, with Bella often presenting as a blank slate lacking her own interests. Then there’s been plenty of that hate that occurs around most things beloved by teen girls, because we as a society devalue anything associated with femininity, especially teen femininity. Just to be clear, that is not a valid reason to hate Twilight.

In all this discussion, one topic that I haven’t seen examined is Twilight‘s deeper meaning. A lot of people see it as a shallow paranormal romance with basic entertainment value. As Stephen King once said, “Twilight is all about how important it is to get a boyfriend.” However, when taken in the context of Mormon theology, there’s a lot more to be discovered. Stephenie Meyer is Mormon, and I grew up Mormon myself. For me, reading this series was like a treasure hunt full of references that I was uniquely situated to understand. Unfortunately, a lot of the negative aspects of the series can be connected to Mormon culture too, which is a whole other post, but here, I’d like to briefly talk about the story’s thematic interpretation through the lens of this theology.

The basic plot of the Twilight series is that ordinary human Bella moves to a new town and meets Edward, a strange, beautiful, and idealized young man who turns out to be a good “vegetarian” vampire from the early 1900s. They fall in love despite being all star-crossed, and there are evil human-killing vampires who hate them, and there are werewolves who hate vampires too, and the entire time all Bella wants is to be turned into a vampire herself so she can be with Edward forever. Eventually, this does happen, and they create a space for their little family in the vampire world by proving to the bad vampires that everything’s fine.

First, the core conflict and the core romance of the series speak thematically to the Mormon vision of life after death. In Mormon belief, everyone will be sorted into three heavenly kingdoms at the Judgment Day. (A few rare individuals will go to actual hell, the Outer Darkness, but that’s mostly for Satan and his demons.) Each kingdom is good, as you will there have eternal life in a perfected body that can accomplish incredible things. The ultimate goal, however, is to reach exaltation in the highest kingdom, the Celestial Kingdom, where the best people will continue learning from God on a perfected Earth to eventually reach godhood themselves. This exaltation can only occur within family groups (married couples being the basic unit).

In Twilight, vampires represent humans post-Judgment. All vampires have perfected bodies with magical gifts, and they will all live forever. (I’m not sure that “sparkly” is exactly what a perfected body is meant to be, but, you know.) As Bella says after she becomes a vampire herself, it’s as though she was always meant to be in her vampire body.

Edward’s good vampire family specifically represents those who reach exaltation. They live in this perfected state together as a set of married couples, and they find greater meaning and purpose in that than other vampires have. Edward, of course, is initially single. However, he is forever changed by his love for Bella and thus becomes his true best self. Meanwhile, the quest for exaltation is reflected in Bella’s desire to become a vampire herself and be with Edward forever. They can each only become the perfected selves they were meant to be through the other’s influence.

In a related point of note, while the vampire’s magical powers represent the spiritual perfection that is reached after the Judgment, they also represent important spiritual gifts that people have even as imperfect human beings. (Just as Bella already had part of her gift before she became a vampire and figured out what it really was.) Many of these gifts are basic traits: faith, loyalty, intelligence. However, some of them are more on the supernatural sideprophecy, discernment, healing. You can compare the powers in Edward’s family for reference.

Finally, the bad vampires represent those who have given into sin, becoming unexalted or even demonic beings. Their blood lust is a metaphor for the intense struggle we all must go through on Earth in resisting temptation so we can become our ideal celestial selves. Giving into that sin prevents exaltation. However, as exemplified in Edward, who had a “rebellious” period, people can repent and come back from their sin. Those who don’t choose that, though, may go so far as to become demonic figures who are constantly attacking the very family unit that supports exaltation.

That’s the meaning of the core conflict and romance. Second, though, are the werewolves, who represent a specific variation of exaltation. Like vampires, werewolves are perfected celestial beings, but they reflect more directly the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Mormon theology states that the Twelve Tribes, having been scattered across the Earth, must come together to accept their true birthright of leading the Church. The werewolves’ connection to this can be clearly seen through the names of their grandparents. Jacob is a direct descendant of Ephraim, which is the birthright tribe of Israel, and through that, he is the birthright of leader of the pack. However, he didn’t want this birthright, so he left it to Sam, a descendant of Levi, which is another important tribe that watches over much of the priesthood. (The priesthood authority is held by men in the Church, which is probably why most of the werewolves are male.) In the end, the werewolves and vampires can only come together to protect their families and reach their full eternal potential once Jacob accepts his birthright. 

The love triangle plays further into this theme. Mormons believe that Gentiles can be “adopted” into the Tribes of Israel and that is how we gain eternal glory. However, Bella couldn’t become a werewolf because she didn’t have the heritage, so in order to reach her celestial ideal, she had to go the vampire route. The vampires are the “adopted” celestial beings, and Bella had to be adopted into the family through her romance with Edward so she could reach exaltation. That’s why Jacob couldn’t be the right choice for her.

Third, Carlisle represents Jesus Christ standing as the head of the exalted family. Mormons believe in Christ as their savior, same as the rest of Christianity, so he had to be included here too! Carlisle not only leads the vampire family, but he is the one who first created it and who now adopts people into it, saving those so broken they were destined to die. Like Jesus, he’s the most ancient of their family, once friends with the worst of the vampires before they fell too far. He is the one who accepted Edward’s “repentance” after his rebellion into evilness. Without Carlisle, the good vampirism wouldn’t be possible. Throughout the series, he acts as a figure of care, guidance, and protection to everyone around him, though he refuses to tolerate threats to his family. He also chooses to be a doctor because he is more gifted at saving people than any human could be. (Christ is sometimes called “the Physician.”) Carlisle is even immune to temptation. It’s really a pity the series didn’t focus more on him.

As noted previously, there are other aspects to Twilight that come from Mormonism, both as a religion and a culture. For example, Edward’s old-fashioned insistence upon getting married before he and Bella have sex and Bella’s insistence on going through with her pregnancy because she values her unborn child’s life so much reflect the Mormon belief in the sacredness of life, sex, and creation. However, the points discussed above are what I see as the most notable, and they’re what give the series a deeper, more valuable meaning.

So the next time someone tells you that Twilight is totally shallow, you’ll be able to explain how rich it is in meaning through Mormon theology! In the end, it’s not just about the importance of having a boyfriend. It’s actually about humanity’s journey towards godhood, as represented through one girl’s escapist (and often problematic) supernatural romance.

Images via Goodreads and Summit Entertainment.

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About My Life

My Experiences with Chapter One Events

Hello, everyone! I’ve been attending Ch21Con 2021 online today, so this seemed like a good time to share my experiences with Chapter One Events, which runs both Ch1Con and Ch21Con. These are two writing conferences, one for teens and one for twenty-somethings, that take place every year in Chicago!

Chapter One Events

Fun fact: I had the honor of being a founding member of Chapter One Events! This glorious journey began when I was 13 and became a member of the Scholastic Write It boards, a heavily moderated online community for young writers where we shared our writing and discussed the book industry. During the five years I was a member, the boards had a really great regular membership. I made many incredible friends there whom I love more than I can express. I got the chance to experience a real writing community full of camaraderie (A+, would recommend), and I also learned a lot about writing, editing, and publishing. Without the Write It boards, I would not be where I am today, and I would be missing out on what bloomed into a beautiful set of friendships!

As the Write It regulars grew older and began to sneakily find each other on much-less-moderated social media, we became eager to meet each other in person. So in summer 2012, Julia Byers, my writing friend and a brilliant entrepreneur, put together a little private conference for us! Since I live in New Mexico and they were further east, I was unable to attend in person, but I spoke at it via video chat. (I talked about writing romance. 👍🏻)

Because of the success of the meet-up, Julia decided she wanted to make it into a full public conference where young writers could meet together. It would be a writing conference run by teens for teens. After tons of legal stuff and more legal stuff and monetary stuff and legal stuff, she finally was able to set up the Chapter One Conference to have its first official event in summer 2014. I was given a position in marketing on the original team. I started trying to raise money to go to Chicago, and I set to work putting together a blog tour. That wasn’t something I’d ever done before, and I was very intimidated. Still, I faked it ’til I maked it. (LOL.) I really learned a lot, even though I kept thinking I was way too young to be taken seriously.

After a lot of back-and-forth, I figured out a way to afford the travel to Ch1Con 2014. Julia immediately put me on as a speaker, doing a workshop about novel openings. So now I was putting that together on top of the conference promotion and my first ever self-planned trip, which was a delightful adventure! I was beyond excited to see in person these longtime friends who had done (and continue to do) so much for me as a writer and a person–and to meet real published authors for the first time. 🤩

My travel to Chicago was a chaotic, wonderful time. I’d never travelled that far east before, and I was stunned seeing all the differences from what I’m used to! Black-and-white cows, tons of brick houses, so much green and wet, a big city skyline, more diverse people than I’d ever seen. My mother and I traveled via Amtrak, which was also a fun new experience. I was honestly pretty overwhelmed, in part because I was so nervous about meeting these people who were so important to me, so I shut down a little bit. I was so scared that I was an awkward disappointment in person!

Once I had a chance to eat some food–Panera, which was also a first for me!–and spend time one-on-one with my favorite Julia doing a podcast interview promoting Ch1Con, I started to calm down and relax into the experience. I hung out that evening with my Write Iters and went to bed excited for the actual conference to start the next day.

We started setting up around eight the next morning, and it was a little more complicated than I’d expected, but finally, we had everything together. All of us attendees and speakers and team members (there only ended up being eight of us that first time, but hey) had a ton of fun and got off topic a lot. There was book analysis, school talk, and general writing mayhem. It was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever experienced. Getting to be with other people your age who have your same interests is truly unparalleled. That was the best part of the conference.

Our speakers talked about procrastination, POV as a central part of world-building, journalism’s connection to novel writing (with Mr. Rogers pictures), movies vs. novels, and character development. I also got to do a live panel with Amy Zhang and Patrice Caldwell, which was awesome. Then we ended the official sessions for the day to have a touristy Chicago adventure! We spent more time endlessly chattering about our shared interests as we rode the subway, went to Millennium Park and the Bean and face fountains, and ate dinner. My fibromyalgia caused some trouble, which was upsetting, but it was 1000% worth it.

The next day was much more low-key, with a smaller set of workshops that included my own. We continued to get way off-topic a lot, but Julia’s query workshop, especially, was helpful. Then we did a little driving tour before going to Union Station. I got more time with the Write Iters who were left and also saw Lake Michigan. Then I awkward-hugged my friends over the car seats, and it was over. My heart hurt so much from missing everyone already. It was magical, being able to find this great group of friends in people I’d never actually met before, and just… the experience was amazing.

For our conference in summer 2015, the stakes were raised. We had more experience, but we needed this event to be successful enough to continue investing resources in. So I upped my marketing work. Thanks to that first conference, we’d established a bit of a brand, full of jokes like rotten tomatoes, Larry the Hamster, and Panera as a sponsor. Now we added ongoing events like YouTube and Twitter chats. We teamed up with popular blog Teens Can Write, Too! Julia continued to show off how phenomenal she is. We had fun with technology and time zones and Indiegogo campaigns. And it worked! We got enough attendees to keep the flame burning.

I didn’t know whether I’d be able to go in person again–I thought that 2014 might be it for seeing my writing friends. But luckily, finances worked out again! This time, my mother and I travelled by plane, and I was a lot less nervous but even more excited (also more tired). Karuna Riazi, whom I’d been a huge fan of for a long time, was one of our speakers, and I couldn’t even manage to talk to her face-to-face because I was so thrilled about it, LOL.

Once again, we had a marvelous time all being together as young writers. Things were more official and less off-topic, but still totally delightful! Our speakers this time talked about teen authorhood, world-building, color-coded outlining, diversity in writing, and the publishing process. We got even more of an insight into the background details of the industry, which was awesome.

I was too sick with my fibromyalgia and such now to be able to go be touristy, so I slept instead. The next day, my Write It friends decided I did need to go see dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium because my username on the boards had been DolphinWriter and I had never seen one before. Once again, my illnesses caused trouble, but I was able to see the dolphins. It was lovely.

Then the 2015 conference experience was over, and I said goodbye to my writing friends. I have yet to see them in person again, but we continue to constantly talk online. They’ve gotten me through so much!

Despite my physical distance, I continued to be a part of the Ch1Con team as the conference’s stability grew. Eventually, our original team became old enough that we decided to add a second conference, Chapter 21 Conference, for writers in their twenties. New, younger people took over Ch1Con, and together, the teams formed Chapter One Events. Thanks to my chronic illness crisis, unfortunately, I did have to leave the team earlier than I otherwise might’ve. But I’m thrilled that some of the original team are still there, while we also have many new people taking charge!

In 2020, obviously, the unexpected happened in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. So the summer 2020 conference moved to virtual form, which permitted me, for the first time, to attend Ch21Con! It being virtual was not quite as fun, with no travel adventure and fewer chances to interact with people, but I appreciated it. Julia once again had some good query advice.

Then this year, summer 2021, the team decided to do a hybrid event, so I once again got to attend via video. I missed part of it because my body loves sleep too much, but it’s been nice! The sound over video was a bit of a sensory nightmare, and I still missed the lack of socializing. I imagine it’s hard when there’s so much happening in person, but I think it’d be awesome if they had a dedicated person focused entirely on running a chat through Twitter or the Discord in the future!

I continue to be a supporter of this conference experience. Connecting with your peers, especially as a young writer, means so much, and there’s a lot to be learned from the speakers! I hope I’ll be able to attend a conference in person again someday, despite my illnesses/finances, whether it’s a Chapter One Events conference or another. I also hope conference organizers will continue working on the virtual side so that disabled people like me can better enjoy the benefits. 😊

If you’re a teen or twenty-something writer, I recommend you check out these two conferences. You can follow Ch1Con and Ch21Con on Twitter, and keep an eye out for registration to open next year! 🍅

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About Disabilities · About My Life · About Other Stories

Thoughts for July 2021

General Thoughts

This year so far has proven to be difficult, though not so much as certain other years. More than anything, I’ve been struggling with a binge-eating problem that has spiraled out of control over the past few years, reaching its peak (I hope!) during the last few months, as I’ve tried to create a new life for myself post-chronic illness crisis.

I’ve restarted counseling because of this, and I’ve discovered that I have a lot of grief about what I lost in that crisis that I still need to process. It’s frustrating because I’ve had to grieve illness-related losses multiple times in the past, and I’d honestly like to move on–but I’m not emotionally ready for that, as it turns out. So I’m processing that grief now, and I’m also trying to reprioritize my writing, since working on my books has consistently been helpful during times of emotional upheaval.

Other updates from the past six months include that I’ve performed and recently finished a significant revision of #OCDStory (🥳), that I’ve finished typing up and rereading my old diaries to help me regain my memory of the crisis, and that I’ve quit attempting to obtain SSI due to the extremely restrictive limits. (I’d love it if you would sign this petition to raise those limits, which is an important issue affecting far more people far more deeply than me!)



Remember that you can see my full list of book recommendations here!




New Movie Recommendations First Half of 2021 with posters for THINGS HEARD & SEEN, THE OLD GUARD, and SOUL


My Spotify moods of the month have been as follows:

  • January: “alternative poprox beats”
  • February: “alternative beats rise up”
  • March: “dark, stormy, and fierce femmes”
  • April: “deep dark indie swagger”
  • May: “alternative femme fatale beats”
  • June: “fierce femme salt”


Alongside the various short posts I’ve enjoyed on social media the past six months, here are some longer pieces I’d like to recommend:

  • This article discusses the horrible experience of being a disabled person in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This thread links to a report about sexual violence at higher education institutions.
  • This thread links to a website examining the best ways to reduce police violence. (Restructuring the justice system to emphasize community welfare, restitution, and personal growth instead of punitive violence and oppression, as well as addressing systemic white supremacy, is the ultimate goal.)
  • This website lists alternate resources to call instead of the police in major U.S. cities.
  • This video explains how best to respond when you see racial (or other) harassments.
  • This website discusses Palestine and the current need for decolonization.
  • This article talks about famous artist Frida Kahlo’s experience as a woman with chronic pain.
  • This Wikipedia page lists different ways different cultures open their fairytales.
  • Giving the continuing threat of climate change-worsened natural disaster, this thread about dealing with hot weather and this thread about dealing with cold weather seem worth a read.

Thank you for reading! How have your past six months been?

About My Books · About My Life

Discovering My Orientations

Hello! Last year for Pride Month, I posted about how, after years of research and thought, I’d figured out that I’m not just straight: I’m actually demisexual and biromantic. For Pride Month this year, I’m sharing that post again here on this new blog!

If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology used for different kinds of attraction, that might sound like a confusing collection of random syllables. Human attraction is ​complicated, like most things related to humanity. The fact that we have the language now to better explore and understand it is amazing! So thank you for taking the time to learn.

Demiheterosexual and biromantic flag

My journey in discovering my attraction orientations began early on in writing #OCDStory. I knew that I wanted one of the side characters to be asexual because it’s important that stories appropriately represent people with different orientations. Not only is it unrealistic to exclude them, it’s also hurtful and can leave them feeling unmoored and rejected. I chose asexuality in particular because it was the marginalized orientation that I’d always found myself most interested in.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation where a person does not feel sexual attraction to people of any gender. Asexual people do not have a medical or psychological problem, and they are not just choosing to be celibate. In fact, some of them aren’t celibate. Asexual people can still respond to sexual contact. They just don’t feel any of that attraction or desire the way allosexual people do when they see or are near an attractive person of their gender(s) of interest. Some asexual people are sex-repulsed, meaning even the idea of engaging in sex is repulsive to them; some are sex-favorable, meaning that they’re interested in engaging in sex despite not specifically being attracted to anyone; and some are sex-neutral.

One thing many allosexual people don’t realize is that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different things. Most people’s romantic orientation aligns with their sexual orientation, but that’s not always the case. The asexual community is where this divergence is most obvious. The split attraction model is a common topic of discussion among asexual people, many of whom do have romantic attraction. However, while sexual attraction is a concept that is fairly easy to describe and understand, romantic attraction can be a lot more confusing.


When I wrote the first draft of #OCDStory in late 2014, I didn’t understand what made romance different from friendship other than sexual attraction. Because of that, I left my asexual character’s romantic orientation undetermined. I revisited the idea a few times in editing, but I could never make enough sense of my own romantic orientation to feel comfortable writing about hers. I’ve always been a very romantic person; while sex is something I’ve struggled to be comfortable with, I adore the concept of romance and all its intimate, affectionate commitment. But I still couldn’t explain romantic attraction.

In April 2019, I realized that I needed to focus in, do some research, and make the necessary edits. Leaving Phoebe’s romantic orientation unexplored wasn’t right. So I embarked on an adventure through the asexual community online. For a while, it only left me more frustrated. Most people who knew their romantic orientations couldn’t describe the experience clearly. Some listed specific non-sexual things they wanted to do only with romantic partners, but that didn’t fit my experience. Some said romance was just “different” from friendship in a way they couldn’t explain, that it was “something extra.” I discovered that a whole segment of people call themselves things like quoiromantic or wtfromantic because they have no idea what romantic attraction even is.

Then, out of the blue, something clicked. I remembered a roommate, my best college friend, from late 2015. She and I had connected right away and became devoted to each other within days of meeting. She’s a wonderful person in so many ways, and she’d done so much for me. For example, her influence had helped me become more comfortable with sexuality and bodies in general. Multiple people had commented on our unusual closeness, including my mom, and for a while after that semester, I had questioned whether I might actually be bisexual. But I had never felt sexual attraction to her, the way I sometimes had with guys, and I hadn’t wanted to do anything with her that I didn’t want to do with my other friends. (I did often think that I would totally marry her if she were a dude, though.) She’d since come out as pansexual, but I’d had no explanation for what I had felt.

Now, four years later, I understood. I hadn’t been sexually attracted to this girl, but I had been romantically attracted to her. Like people said online, it was “different” and “extra.” My feelings for her had been brighter and more obsessive in a positive way. It was friendship, but also not. Thus, I now knew I was biromantic. Like most bi people, I had a “preference,” leaning more towards men, but here was one example of romantic attraction towards a woman too. Later, I came to recognize a few more women I’d felt that for, though not as strongly, in my past. With that knowledge in hand, it felt right for Phoebe to mirror my own journey to discovering my romantic orientation.

I was quite comfortable with that label for myself. There were a few questions still lingering, but I didn’t pay much mind to them until May 2020. One night, I was lying in bed like usual, letting my thoughts whirl their way around my head however they pleased until they slowed into sleep. For whatever reason, I started thinking about asexuality. I thought about how I’d always been drawn to it as a concept, and most particularly, demisexuality. Demisexuality is a sexual orientation that lies in between allosexuality and asexuality, where a person only feels sexual attraction to certain people with whom they have a strong emotional bond.

I thought about how multiple online quizzes I’d taken had put me somewhere in the asexual spectrum. I thought about how my counselor sometimes questioned why sexual attraction was an afterthought when I talked about my crushes. I thought about the time in AP Literature when the teacher asked us all to share one thing we found physically attractive and everyone thought I was so “pure” because I couldn’t answer.

I had been operating on a few assumptions: I’d assumed that my interest in the asexual spectrum was because of my OCD-fueled fear of sex. I’d assumed that my OCD-fueled fear of sex had also caused me to become very good at suppressing my own sexual feelings, which was why I usually only felt brief, seconds-long bursts of physical attraction here and there. I’d further assumed that demisexuality worked like a light switch, where you hit a certain point of closeness and suddenly it’s on. But that night in May, with my OCD now well-managed, I found myself questioning those assumptions.

What if those sexualities spoke to me for a reason? What if my fear of sex was, in fact, partly caused by me being less interested in sex than others, not the other way around? What if demisexuality sometimes worked more like a dimmer, where sexual attraction slowly ramped up the more one got to know an attractive person?

Suddenly, things started clicking in my head again, leaving me wide awake. I thought of the only two people I’ve ever been sexually attracted to for more than a brief moment. The first was a guy I’d fallen deeply for, feeling a deep though illogical emotional connection to him. I’d been romantically attracted to him pretty quickly, but the physical attraction took months to appear, at which point it slowly grew–then sputtered as we grew apart. The second was the closest guy friend I’ve ever had. I wasn’t attracted to him for a couple of years, but then it started to develop, quite against my will. Eight years after I’d first met him, I understood for the first time why people in stories felt the urge to throw themselves at each other. The strength of it startled me because I’d never felt anything like it before.

Remembering that now, I realized all at once that I was demisexual. A bunch of other things started making sense: I understood now why I’d always been confused by one-night stands, celebrity crushes and “freebie lists,” by people who got married after knowing each other for less than a year, and by religious people who struggled with sexual “temptation.” I understood why I’d felt so uncomfortable when I’d tried using dating websites and apps. I understood why I sometimes had a hard time deciding whether there was relationship potential with people. Suddenly, so many things made sense!

“DEMIGoddess” Eugenex

Today, I’m pleased to be able to say that I’m demibi. Some people might not understand the power in having that knowledge because, in practice so far, I basically look straight. But knowing the subtleties helps me to better understand myself and others. It’ll certainly help me to better navigate future romantic relationships! I’m also thrilled whenever I find the words to better communicate and understand different concepts. That’s why I’m glad complex labels like these exist. Knowledge is power, and I hope this story helps you to understand different kinds of attraction better, too.

Thanks for reading, and happy Pride!

Images via my own files, OurAceSpace on Wattpad, Hafuboti on Wikipedia, and Eugenex on TeePublic.

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About My Life · About Writing

Figuring Out What Works for You

This post, about a vital epiphany I had about my writing, was originally shared on my old blog in November 2019. I’ve made minor edits.

Over the years, as I’ve developed as a writer, I’ve had many moments where I realized that everything I had written so far was just not original enough. I’d write a bunch of manuscripts, try to get an agent with one of them, fail repeatedly, and then realize, I still haven’t figured this out. My writing’s still too derivative. It’s still not marketable.

Success/Failure road signs

One of those realizations hit me in September 2019, and it was crushing. Years of failure have sapped a lot of my hope and excitement about publication. That makes the hard moments even harder. I kept thinking, How can I be such a slow learner in my writing career when I’ve always been a fast learner in everything else? But then I realized something, something big. And now I understand that it’s not an issue of being a slow learner. I’ve likely been improving at a decent enough pace.

The problem was that I wasn’t writing in the way that works best for me.

When it comes to writing advice, the cardinal rule is that you need to do what works for you. Quite simply, not every piece of writing advice will be right for every writer. I knew this. What I hadn’t realized was that finding what works for you doesn’t always come naturally. It won’t always be the first method you try. You have to experiment. You have to apply those pieces of writing advice and see if they improve your work.

I tend to be stubborn, which I think is an important trait for writers, but it has downsides. Right from the start, I settled into one method of writing, and I never really considered the alternatives. I started out each of my books with an ending or a climax in mind and then blazed a path towards that. I never planned any other part of the story before I began to write. On top of that, I was a “plot-rusher,” someone who moves so quickly through the first draft that it ends up skeletal. Instead of needing to delete a lot of content the way most writers do in editing, I needed to add scenes and bulk it all up.

And I was proud of and enjoyed my way of doing things! I was proud to be the person who wrote nineteen novels before turning twenty-one. I was proud to be a repeat NaNoWriMo winner who once managed 50,000 words in two weeks. I had settled into that identity, and I felt loyal to it.

But then my chronic illness crisis hit.

It’s strange to think of my chronic illnesses as being positive. My chronic illness crisis was difficult and traumatizing, and it shifted my entire life in so many ways I consider negative. But it turns out that this crisis also did me an important favor: it forced me to slow down. It’s been a frustrating struggle, going from blazing to glacial, from Stephen King to George R.R. Martin. Nevertheless, a few months ago, as I realized it was time to trunk my old manuscripts because of their unoriginality, I also realized how important slowing down had been for me.

I am not really a creative thinker. I’m a rule follower, Lawful Good, not great at getting outside the box. This is exactly why I had been failing at originality over the years. Someone like me cannot thrive as a pantser and a plot-rusher. All my obsessive enthusiasm, along with my longtime distaste for outlines, has kept me from realizing that slowing down is exactly what I’ve needed, at every stage of the process.

"SLOW" painted on a road surrounded by trees

I seem to get book ideas at the rate of about one per year. But when I became sick, I wasn’t able to write a new book for a handful of years. That means the ideas started piling up, and I had more time to consider them and add to them. Apparently, ideas for novels are kind of like Lego blocks: you have to take multiple pieces and snap them together before you get something special. So now, instead of having basic ideas with a couple of components, I have ideas that are taking on more pieces before I ever start writing.

My slowness once I get to the writing stage has also caused a number of important changes. When working at this rate, I have to write every day or I lose both momentum and perspective. I forget too much of what’s come before and have to go back to the start. Outline or no, I think every writer works off of instinct to some degree–you have to develop a “sense” for the story, and if I don’t write every day, I lose that. But writing every day is actually the first writing process advice I’ve ever tried out. It’s showed me how changing up my style might be good. It’s certainly improved my mental health.

Additionally, writing this slowly gives me time to consider my options. When I was racing through my stories with my basic, non-outlined ideas, it was very easy for my Lawful Good brain to default into overused tropes instead of thinking in more complex ways. I believe that I’ll be able to be more original and creative now that I’ve slowed down. The slowness further allows me to layer on more details and do more research during writing instead of doing it in editing.

The slower rate even helps during editing, because I have more time to consider and list all the changes that would improve the story before I send it to my beta readers and critique partners. They get a better product, one that I’ve already done a lot of work on, to critique. I’m also having them read it one at a time instead of all at once now, which I think will increase the potential for improvement.

Without my illnesses slowing me down, I don’t think I ever would have discovered what I needed. I don’t think I would’ve realized how important it is to write using the methods that are best for you individually, and I never would’ve realized that I needed to test methods out in order to find that right path. But now I know that I need to experiment not just with what I write but with how I write it. Little by little, this will bring me to a place where I can write better–not just because I’m learning writing skills but because I’m discovering how to write in a way that maximizes my unique potential.

This epiphany also emphasized for me the importance of this piece of writing advice. In the linked Tumblr post, the writer discusses how J.R.R. Tolkien exemplified someone using what they know and are passionate about to write a story that’s both high-quality and uniquely personal. I was struck by that piece of advice from the moment I first read it. Now, I see that it aligns with this concept of finding what works best for you.

Close up of a fountain pen writing in a notebook

Initially, I didn’t know how to apply the advice because I see my passion as mainly being “stories.” That’s just too broad a topic. But as I’ve thought it over, I realized, first, I had to let go of what is typical for speculative fiction stories. I think most writers struggle with this; after all, there’s a reason we love the genre(s) we write! While it is important for us to examine what we love in our favorite authors/stories, it’s also important to consider what fits us.

As much as I love epic sci-fi/fantasy, I am not a strategist, and I don’t know much about war or political schemes. That kind of thinking doesn’t at all come naturally for me. So the stories that fit me aren’t big epics with worlds in need of salvation. The stories that fit my skills and interests are more personal and focused. These smaller-scale conflicts don’t have to be smaller intensity–what people usually connect to in stories are the characters. And that’s what I’m best suited to focus on, with my interest in human-related topics in general!

Writing small-scale stories does mean I’m less likely to become a Harry Potter- or Hunger Games-type phenomenon, but my vision of a dream career has changed anyway. I’ve realized the better goal isn’t to become a phenomenon, but rather to have a long and steady career with many published books. After all, you don’t have to touch millions to make a difference in the world. Even just one can be enough.

So instead of writing epics, it’s better for me to write about what I have more experience, knowledge, and interest in. I have experience in complex family relationships, in mental and chronic illness, in music, and in social media use. I have a slightly more-than-average amount of knowledge about psychology, sociology, religion, and medicine. I also know a lot about cats, should that ever become relevant, LOL. Though I wouldn’t say I’m knowledgeable about it, I am very interested in romance. Finally, what draws me to speculative fiction is its focus on all the potential in the future, the universe, and ourselves. Between that and the many tropes I enjoy, there’s a lot I can work with in my writing to make it more unique! And of course, experiences and interests can change over time, offering even more possibilities.

Throughout my small and unsuccessful writing career so far, I’ve had a few “most important pieces of writing advice” to offer. I think it’s important for writers to become stubborn enough to never give up on their dreams. I think it’s important for writers to explore as many different stories from others as they can. I think it’s important for writers to recognize the autonomy of their characters. Now, I’m adding this to the top of the list: I think it’s important for writers to experiment with different writing methods so that they can find what works the best for them personally.

For me, this is a career-changer, and it might very well turn out to be a career-maker. Because of my chronic illness crisis, in multiple ways, my writing will never be the same.

Images via ccpixs.com, Kimchi.sg on Wikipedia, and Free-Photos on Pixabay.

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About Disabilities · About My Life

Kevin and His Calculator

Like everyone who’s been through school, I’ve dealt with a variety of teachers, good and bad. I’ve had teachers who guided me in my writing career and through my chronic illness struggles, and I’ve had teachers who mistreated and disrespected students and who were terrible at actually educating. As a chronically ill person, I’ve also dealt with a variety of ableism. But the worst example of both ableism and teacher misconduct that I’ve personally experienced is that of Kevin and his calculator.

I originally shared this story on my old blog in June 2017, and now I’m posting it here with edits to the writing quality.

During my first semester at BYU – Idaho, I had a religion teacher whom I did not much like. Many of the worst teachers I’ve dealt with have been inflexible people. In general, inflexibility is a toxic trait because we are all different people with our own paths in life, our own best ways of doing things, and it’s important to accept and affirm that. With teachers, inflexibility is especially bad because education is so important and, at the same time, a one-size-fits-all system.

BYU - Idaho logo

This religion professor may have been the most inflexible (and self-righteous) person I have ever met. He had an extremely black-and-white way of looking at things–and I say this as someone who was first diagnosed with OCD during this particular semester. His assignments were pedantic busy work that displayed no trust in his students’ intelligence or spiritual capacity. He said things like that we would see who was “truly righteous” by whether they chose to watch the Super Bowl on a holy Sunday. (I’m not a sports person myself, but I think that’s a bit much.)

Though I disagreed strongly with his perspective of the world, I didn’t initially have too much trouble with this professor. The worst moment was probably when he said that “disabled people feel entitled.” At least, that was the worst moment, until we reached the last two weeks of the semester.

During the first week of school, as is usual for disabled students, I’d had to work out a set of accommodations with the Disability Office. At this time, as was usual for the first and last weeks of school, I had been very sick. While I’d been in the Disability Office, I’d ended up in tears because of how much pain I’d been in. (They’d encouraged me then to get medical help, which had come in the form of a steroid injection in the butt–a truly delightful experience.)

The accommodation that I used most often while in school was a Kindle for my textbooks so that I wouldn’t have to carry around the too-heavy weight of physical textbooks with my fragile, exhausted body. I was allowed to use this Kindle in classes as an exception to the usual no-electronics policy. When I had given the religion professor the official letter stating that I would be using a Kindle for my texts, he had accepted that with little issue. His dislike of electronics, however, had been quite clear throughout the semester.

Also throughout the semester, we’d had open book quizzes at home on our readings in the LDS scriptures. This required us to page through those scriptures to find direct quotes and minor details. Thinking that the professor understood I did not use physical books, I had used my Kindle for these quizzes–which, admittedly, made it easier to find those pieces of information. I’d aced all the quizzes, which was not something unusual for me. I always did well in school.

Two weeks before the end of the semester, however, the professor called me into his office.

“You’ve been getting better grades than anyone on the quizzes,” he said, “and you finish them very quickly.”

An open set of scriptures

I nodded, unsure where was this was going.

“Have you been cheating?” he asked.

I was blindsided by the accusation. I’d been given hints over the years that teachers might think I was cheating, but my clear integrity and intelligence had prevented any true accusation.

“I’m sorry?” I said to the religion teacher.

“Have you been using your Kindle to take the quizzes?”

I stared at him. “Yes. They’re open book, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but that means a physical copy of the book.”

I shook my head, confused. “But I have a disability accommodation. I told you that at the beginning of the semester. I use my Kindle for my scriptures. I haven’t used anything else on the quizzes, just the scriptures.”

“The rules clearly state ‘no electronics.'”


“So I’m giving you a chance to correct this without going to the Honor Code Office. What do you think your grades would be if you hadn’t used electronic scriptures?”

I was not prepared for this, in part because I had been diagnosed only eleven weeks ago for a type of OCD that made me vulnerable regarding moral issues. I tended to mistrust myself and to become deeply self-hating when faced with the possibility of having done something wrong. However, I knew that what this professor was saying made no sense. My Kindle was a disability accommodation. I did not have physical scriptures. How could using electronic scriptures on an open book test be cheating?

Though we went back and forth a bit, the professor was unwavering. He showed no understanding of the unique circumstances. A part of me was almost impressed by his manipulative way of speaking to me and his insistence on posing himself as a magnanimous figure. I eventually gave in and told him that maybe I would have gotten Bs? It was impossible for me to know, but like I said, I was good at school. He accepted that, though with a suspicious look, and I stumbled away crying.

After processing what had happened, with the help of a typical I-have-a-problem-and-no-one-here-to-ask call to my mom, I decided that I needed to push back more. Now that I was away from the immediate shock and could express myself via writing, maybe I could explain in a way the professor would understand. I sent an email to him, my mother, and the Disability Office that I hoped would straighten things out.

A drawing of hands, palms up, holding the disability symbol

Instead, I received a flurry of berating replies. As my mom and I tried to work things out with the Disability Office, the professor repeatedly threatened me with the Honor Code Office, called me a cheater and a liar, and wrote things like, “the guilty taketh the truth to be hard” and “you and God and I know the truth.” I could hardly believe that a fully grown man was speaking this way to one of his students.

I would have given up sooner, especially since I still had an A in the class, but my counselor and my mom encouraged me to continue. Even my dad called the professor “a disconsolate ass,” which was oddly heartening, since my family didn’t allow cursing. We all agreed that what the professor was doing was wrong, and other students needed protection from that kind of behavior. So I continued sending emails throughout the week.

The Disability Office, however, proved to be exceptionally unhelpful, stating that it had been my responsibility to communicate to the professor about my accommodations. Since we had never explicitly agreed that I would be using my Kindle on tests, they couldn’t do anything. Perhaps that was true, but they had to see how inappropriate this all was, didn’t they? I had forwarded all of the professor’s emails to them.

Without structural support, and with my mental health quickly degrading under the stress of this, I finally decided to let the issue go. I sent an email to everyone stating so, though I again pointed out the unique circumstances and the importance of supporting disabled students. The professor replied thanking me for owning up to my cheating and doing the right thing, having clearly not understood any of my points.

I thought it was over. But the next day, in our first religion class during the very last week of school, the professor went off-syllabus with an unexpected case study. He projected it up on the board. It read something like this:

“In a math class, calculators are not allowed while taking quizzes. Kevin has been using a calculator on his quizzes. of taking the issue to a higher authority, possibly leading to failure or even expulsion, he will simply lower Kevin’s grades on the quizzes. The teacher tells him that, instead Kevin insists that he has not cheated and calls on his parents to defend him. Though the teacher has treated him with fairness, Kevin refuses to admit that he has done something wrong.”

A light-skinned hand holding up a calculator in front of a blurry desk set-up

Then the professor had the entire class discuss “Kevin” and his cheating ways.

As I sat there, listening to everyone talk about how “Kevin” was a terrible person for refusing to admit his wrongs in using a “calculator,” I had no words. To set aside one of the last class periods to target me, using my unsuspecting peers, and again without acknowledging that teeny tiny detail of my disability accommodation, right after I had let the complaint go, was astounding. Part of me wanted to cry, but things had drifted so far from logical reality that I mostly wanted to laugh. The immaturity! The manipulativeness! The utter audacity!

The professor brought up the issue again briefly the next class period, and then, the semester was over. I considered filing a complaint higher up, but I honestly didn’t want to waste more time, effort, and mental health on a man who, I now saw, was incapable of seeing shades of grey. No matter what I tried, he wasn’t going to acknowledge my point. I knew the truth, and that would have to be enough.

Me and God, but apparently, not him.

After that semester, I was sure to use Rate My Professors before signing up for any classes. In a later year, I came across the professor with his latest religion class, which included a blind student, and I winced. I could only pray that the student would make it through without too much struggle.

Brother Dorman is still a religion professor at BYU – Idaho to this day.

In retrospect, I wish I’d had the resources, emotionally and externally, to continue fighting his mistreatment and apparent ableism. It hurts to think of all the students who are under his power, possibly being manipulated and degraded like I was. You want to talk about “unrighteous dominion”? Look no further. But this all happened in 2014, and I don’t have the emails anymore. Perhaps the school does. I don’t know. I suspect that all I can do is hope that either this professor has significantly changed or a future student who does have the resources will succeed at pushing back.

One of the most important lessons I learned that semester is that rules on their own have no meaning. To follow rules, without question, is to ignore the fact that each rule should stem from an underlying principle.

Golden statue of Lady Justice blindfolded with her scales and sword

The principle is what has meaning. Too often, we ignore that principle and let ourselves be controlled by the rule instead, even when it becomes arbitrary or hurtful. When you look at the rules, you see black and white. When you look at the principles, you begin to understand in true color, and then, you are enabled to follow the rules with greater purpose. You become a better, more educated person. You learn how to balance justice and mercy.

There was none of that balance in what happened to me.

Thank you for your time and support in reading this post. It’s wild, right?

Images via Brigham Young University – Idaho on Wikipedia, JamesNichols on Pixabay, Hawaii Open Data on thenounproject, and two unknown artists on pxhere.

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About Disabilities · About My Life

Chronic Illness Crisis: My Story Continued

This post tells the story of how I came to be diagnosed with three additional, significant chronic illnesses in the crisis that turned my life upside down. It thus acts as a part two of “Fibromyalgia: My Story,” which can be read here. Since it addresses some mental health topics, it also can be seen as adding to “Obsessive-Compulsive: My Story,” which is linked here. Note that this post contains discussion of ableism, suicidal and self-injurious thoughts, and traumatic chronic illness experiences.

The story of how I developed three more chronic illnesses on top of my fibromyalgia, pushing me into a life-changing crisis, is a complicated one. This is partly because the trauma has caused persistent problems with my long-term memory.

In the past few months, I’ve been typing up the stretch of diaries that covered most of my college and post-college years. It’s been quite the experience! Multiple bits of memory I hadn’t previously had access to have floated back up, bits of memory I had no context for are being put into place in a larger narrative, and some other events have proved to be gone entirely. I’ve written this post as I’ve read, laying out the story of how I descended into my chronic illness crisis.

Another reason this story is so complex is that I can’t tell you for certain, even now, when these illnesses began. My fibromyalgia, despite various pre-symptoms in my earlier years, had a definite starting point with the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. These conditions? They may have been here all along, hidden under the fibromyalgia and only noticeable once they became severe.

But let’s begin where the fibromyalgia story left off: at the beginning of my time at college. At this point, I had my symptoms well enough under control that I lived a full life. I played cello, I sang, I went to church, I spent time with friends, I wrote my own novels, and I attended school full-time with two majors. Yes, I had definite limitations in terms of physical ability and sleep requirements, and I didn’t feel great living in my body. But I was doing pretty well.

Me kneeling next to a bed in a college dorm, in the middle of unpacking
Moving into my first college dorm, Fall 2012

Starting college was difficult, of course. It’s a major transition for everyone, and I was still struggling with an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. On top of that, Adams State University proved to be the wrong college for me. I made the best of it. I had some good moments! But on top of my increasing problems with mental health, I was also dealing with the larger world and its constant failure to accommodate people with disabilities.

I wasn’t unfamiliar with ableism, though I didn’t yet know the word for it. At college, though, the problem became more obvious. I struggled to get a healthy diet at the school dining hall with my food restrictions. My roommates often failed to take my need for sleep seriously. In fact, many of them took offense. They decided I was lazy and a burden. The disability offices weren’t very helpful, and teachers sometimes questioned, ignored, or even fought my official accommodations. School apartments required extremely thorough cleaning on a regular basis. Taking fewer college classes per semester also wasn’t an option because of scholarship requirements and high college costs.

The stage was thus set for me to become incredibly sick. I was already a perfectionist who put an enormous emotional burden on my own shoulders. I pushed myself hard, and now I was surrounded by people who weren’t willing to give me what I needed to protect my fragile body. They insisted that I work as hard as I possibly could–more than I could. Even doing that, I wasn’t enough. To them, I was a problem; I was boring; I wasn’t contributing; I should just try harder. I heard it from so many people: family, roommates, church members, teachers, even my friends’ parents.

And I listened to them. Even as I spiraled down into mental breakdown throughout my freshman year, I tried so hard. It breaks my heart reading my diaries from this time period because of the extent of my suffering. I was putting forth so much effort that I could not afford to give. I simply didn’t value myself. My somewhat dysfunctional family added a lot of strain as well, with their own high expectations and emotional burdens.

Close up of me holding a hippo stuffed animal toy in front of my face
Me having a sick day, Early 2013

Amidst all this, though my fibromyalgia seemed stable enough, I experienced two strange bladder episodes where for hours at a time, I couldn’t get rid of the somewhat painful feeling that I needed to pee. The first happened in February 2013. The second happened in December 2013. I wrote them off as “weird cramps” and never even connected the two episodes. After all, I had a lot going on. I also experienced at least one episode of low blood pressure that was caught when I tried to donate blood. I was used to having slightly low blood pressure and slightly low temperatures, but the 80/60 number scared me a bit.

In January 2014, I transferred to BYU – Idaho, and immediately, my fibromyalgia blew up. I was used to experiencing serious flares the first and the last weeks of school semesters, thanks to the increased stress and heavy workloads, but this was worse than usual. One contributing factor was that I could not for the life of me find many of the elevators Maps didn’t show them, few people knew their locations, and they were often hidden in the strangest places. It certainly took more than that first week to figure them out, which meant I had to use the stairs. Within the week, I ended up in such severe pain in my hips and legs that I had to go to a local urgent care and get a butt injection of an anti-inflammatory.

My mental health was also acting up from the stress, so I set up a counseling appointment and was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This brought an entirely new perspective to my life. For the next year or so, I focused on overcoming the mental illness that had been tormenting me ceaselessly. I switched from my original low-dose antidepressant to a higher dose of Zoloft, with no apparent side effects. I was determined to excel at school, now with just one major, and to keep writing my books. The reality of my fibromyalgia, which continued to flare throughout that difficult winter semester, took a back seat. My physical health? Definitely not the priority.

I experienced one particularly notable episode of ableism from a teacher that semester, which I’ll talk about more in a later post. Then, while doing a semester online, I fell ill with a high fever, extreme abdominal pain, nausea, and other symptoms. Various doctors prescribed different antibiotics, though they weren’t sure what was happening. My family was annoyed at me for being a problem. But I was really suffering. It was… not good. There truly was this heavy expectation in the family that I be functional and helpful and that I emotionally take care of the others, particularly my autistic brother, who at this time was often violent. Me failing to uphold that was never taken well. Even me going to college was often treated as a betrayal, despite it also being seen as the only acceptable path.

I ended up having an allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics I was put on. Once I got off of it, my symptoms improved. A specialist concluded that I had experienced a gallbladder infection.

Me, with face out of frame, holding a small black and white kitten to my chest
Me and my emotional support cat Spartacus, Summer 2014

Meanwhile, in counseling, the priority became for me to learn how to set appropriate boundaries, communicate effectively, and generally disentangle myself from negative patterns my family had developed. That process, however, would take a very long time, and all the stress I experienced in the meantime definitely contributed to my worsening physical health. I had one less severe episode that was either my bladder or my gallbladder in September 2014. Then, I continued on into my junior year at BYU – I.

At that point, my physical condition took a downturn. I didn’t notice it at the time because it was so gradual and because I was so used to feeling sick and ignoring it, but in reading my diaries now, the pattern is clear. I experienced many serious flares. As winter returned, I began taking naps more and more often. Soon, it was a daily occurrence. In my diaries, I started skipping words, confusing dates, referencing events I hadn’t written about, and showing other such indications of mental confusion. This presented itself in my daily life as well, with me writing essays on the wrong books, blanking out for short stretches of time, and placing items in illogical places. I had horrific, graphic nightmares; night sweats; and nighttime teeth clenching that flattened my molars.

But I continued pushing myself just as hard as before. I wrote #OCDStory during this time, and was surprised at how difficult I found it. It has been my most challenging novel so far on many levels and for many reasons, but one was that, during my junior year, I was having trouble focusing or maintaining motivation. Though I did take notice of that, I didn’t understand what it meant. I thought I was just being lazy. My head did seem clearest in the evening/early night, so I took to writing my book and my school essays then.

I had another gallbladder-or-bladder episode in March 2015, an infected cat bite that put me in the hospital in May 2015, and a tenacious intestinal blockage in July 2015. I was alarmingly blasé about all of it. I returned home for the summer and then was back to school for my senior year.

I am incredibly grateful that the first semester of my senior year is also when I had my best set of roommates. Though some of them were unnecessarily loud at night (which I literally paid for in pain), they did like me. More importantly, the girl who actually shared my room was the best friend I ever had at BYU – I. She took such good care of me. She would nap at the same times as me, bring me food, do chores when I couldn’t, remind the others to keep quiet, sit with me while I cried, and even help me get undressed on the days I hurt so much I couldn’t do it myself.

I needed that help, badly, because that first week I became so sick I couldn’t walk for two days. The struggle would only worsen from there. This semester was the first where I felt ready to play cello again after my mental breakdown freshman year. It was also the only semester at BYU – I where I had a part-time job. My body made it known that I had taken things too far.

Me amid others playing cello on a stage
My last orchestra concert, Fall 2015

I repeatedly had horrific flares with severe pain and chills; I needed multiple naps a day; and I started forgetting or simply being unable to do basic tasks like showering, cleaning the kitty litter, shopping, and cooking. The deeper we got into the semester, the worse it became. I was constantly late to classes and church. I couldn’t remember my medications. My mental health was worsening again. I also ended up gaining 40 pounds because the only thing that kept me awake was food. The fatigue got to the point where all I could think about, every second I was awake, was when I could go back to sleep again. I was nothing short of miserable.

Thinking that my fibromyalgia must be worsening again, I started making adjustments. I bought looser clothing that hurt less. I rearranged my work schedule. I made more use of the accommodations I’d been allowed (my orchestra teacher was particularly kind in giving me a lot of leeway–most days, I couldn’t even play anymore because of the pain). I attended a later church across the street. But none of it proved effective, and winter was coming.

Finally, I realized I had no choice: I needed to quit orchestra entirely and stop trying to work on #OCDStory temporarily. These were huge sacrifices for me, since writing and cello have been my two major passions in life. The fact that I unknowingly came to this conclusion on the last drop day of the semester seemed like a sign. But I still sobbed and sobbed when I dropped orchestra. After all I’d been through to become emotionally well enough to play, my body had snuck up from behind and taken cello away anyway.

I haven’t been well enough to play cello since that day.

Making that change did improve many of my symptoms, thankfully. But now I had the brain capacity to realize that I was experiencing worsening bladder pain and frequency and probably had a UTI. When I went to the doctor, she said there were no definite signs of an infection, but there were minor discrepancies that could indicate I was healing from one. I took an antibiotic, which didn’t much help. I returned to the doctor and was told I was dehydrated. I forced myself to drink significantly more, and that helped. However, at this point, I started having to use a heating pad to reduce the pain enough that I could sleep, a practice that continues to this day.

In between semesters, I continued to confuse my symptoms for other issues. By March 2016, I had at least admitted that “the fibro may be getting worse than I can manage.” But the pressure from others didn’t let up.

A picture of me sitting in my room with my head tilted
My 22nd Birthday, Spring 2016

My last semester as an undergraduate student continued in a steady downward spiral. I told myself that I would push through to the end of my degree before figuring out how to stabilize my health. Within that first week flare, I had some strange symptoms, including proprioception issues that caused me to veer left and walk into walls. But that passed. My other symptoms remained, including a feeling like all the energy had been sucked straight out of every muscle cell. Moving was hard and slow, and people often got mad at me for walking so sluggishly, though I tried to keep out of their way. I also struggled more and more mentally. Doing schoolwork was like trying to swim through Jello to reach my own thoughts.

On top of that, I was facing an empty black hole of a future that I didn’t know how to define. (Apparently, that’s normal for people nearing their college graduations.) I told one of the doctors at school, and he upped my Zoloft, which helped for a little while. For the sake of my happiness, I also started writing my first fanfiction, about Wanda Maximoff and Vision from the MCU developing a romance in between movies. And I’m so glad I made that choice, because it likely helped save my life.

I crawled across the finish line of my Bachelor’s in English in July 2016. I had accomplished almost nothing I had hoped for during my degree, and I was very sick, but I had made it through. So I headed back home. There, I started working online, one class at a time, towards a Master’s in Library and Information Science. I also restarted counseling to better cope with the “empty future” struggle.

But in September, I realized that my motivation was no longer strong enough to overcome my body’s resistance to action. It made me furious. I hated my body for its limits. I began thinking about violent self-injury. I wanted to show my body what pain was really supposed to look like, what it was to really be hurt. Just as my nine-year-old self had experienced a major loss of innocence in learning that the mind can create hell from within, my twenty-one-year-old self was experiencing that now with her body. I could feel the cage of it closing in on me, smothering all the glory of my mind and soul. For an idealist like me, that kind of restriction is very hard to accept. But trying to fight a war against basic physical reality, as I had been for too many years, only leads to brutal, mutual destruction.

I started seeing doctors in hopes of finding better treatment, but it never occurred to me that my symptoms were anything more than fibromyalgia–until late October, when my pelvic pain went from severe to get to an emergency room right now. Over the span of two weeks, I saw multiple doctors, who were confused by my vague descriptions of my symptoms. But I was quickly diagnosed with severe interstitial cystitis (IC). When I went to pee a couple of days after my first hydrodistension, I was stunned at the difference. I actually had to look to see if I really was peeing. Up until that moment, I hadn’t even realized I had been hurting when I peed.

That’s the unfortunate reality of having a condition like fibromyalgia–you become so used to pain filling up your head with noise that you stop noticing it, even when you really need to.

A picture of me sitting in my room in a ScarletVision shirt looking miserable
One of many bad days, Fall 2016

I’ve had similar experiences since then, including a bad strep infection that was discovered by my dentist after I failed to recognize it myself. For that reason, if none other, people shouldn’t urge chronic illness sufferers to “push through it.” You can’t know what it’s like living in someone else’s body. You can’t know how sick they really are. We chronically ill people often don’t even know how sick we are!

A whole variety of adjustments and treatments helped with the IC. Among other things, I had to begin an extremely restricted diet, which has been a consistent frustration since then. But my body still did continue worsening on me. In December, I started having truncal spasms and muscle shakiness that no one could explain, and my balance became unsteady. Every time I was upright, I experienced greyouts and a crushing, caving feeling in my chest. I began using a cane, which made me even more aware of how much stigma surrounds mobility aids. (Remember canes and walkers and wheelchairs are good because they provide freedom!)

The IC also continued causing excruciating pain as my bladder struggled to recover from the years of trauma and inflammation I’d put it through. I wouldn’t realize until I’d gotten much better exactly how nightmarish that pain was. But I knew even then that it was something no one should ever have to go through.

Soon, when I wasn’t in various doctor’s offices, having my other symptoms shrugged at, I was in bed. At the end of the semester, I went on medical leave. My life became little but Netflix show after Netflix show, constant suffering and exhaustion, with the main bright spots being the two chapters of my fanfiction I wrote each week. I had never written a novel-length piece so slowly before, but it meant everything to me.

Still, it couldn’t make up for the stagnation of my life, and as time passed with no answers, I became suicidal for the second time in my life. This was shameful to me; since I’d already been suicidal and come through it once, I’d thought I’d never feel drawn to that “solution” again. But suicidal thoughts are what happen when pain begins to exceed resources for coping, and there are many things that can cause that level of pain.

In this case, I was suffering from both physical and emotional pain. If I hadn’t had my mom and my expert urologist on hand to treat my IC during the many times it became unbearable, I’m certain I would have made an attempt on my own life. Emotionally speaking, I was also losing hope. My life lacked meaning; without visible accomplishments, it felt like I had stopped developing as a person. I wasn’t sure I could ever do so again while trapped in my failing body. Additionally, I was dealing with some serious internalized ableism that caused me to see myself as nothing but an immense burden on my family. I was ashamed to be so needy. I was ashamed to be doing so little. My existence basically seemed like a cost-benefit analysis weighed too heavily on the cost side.

Thus, the winter of 2016 and 2017 was one of the darkest times in my life. But in reading these diaries now, I can see that there were also so many small good things that got me through it. There was support and companionship from my friends and family. There were tender mercies from God. There were snuggles with my cat Spartacus. There were stories that I loved with fierce joy, including my own fanfiction. There was medical treatment to give me some hope.

In early 2017, a psychiatrist switched me from Zoloft to Cymbalta, which is an antidepressant designed for fibromyalgics. My mental confusion improved dramatically. My mom said it was like I suddenly became present in my life again. Some of my mental confusion had apparently been a side effect of the Zoloft, though it came on so gradually, the connection couldn’t be made independently. The vivid nightmares, night sweats, night jaw-clenching, and gallbladder issues also seem to have been related.

A picture of me sitting with a small smile in loose grey clothing
Moving towards recovery, Spring 2017

Since none of the doctors I’d seen had answers about the other symptoms, we made a late July appointment at Mayo Clinic up in Minnesota. My interstitial cystitis was starting, very slowly, to improve, thanks in part to regular instillations of a Heparin cocktail. Between February and July 2017, I experimented with diet eliminations and discovered various food intolerances, which resolved my pre-existing digestive issues into a more minor case of chronic constipation. Eventually, my suicidal thoughts stopped. Shortly before I went to Mayo Clinic, I finished my fanfiction. It continues to be a project of which I’m quite proud–even more amazing when you consider that my brain was missing in action for most of it!

At Mayo Clinic, I went through a whirlwind of tests and appointments. My initial diagnosis of fibromyalgia was confirmed, and I was further diagnosed as having postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), with possible complications from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which is the “sister condition” of fibromyalgia. These diagnoses meant I had been placed firmly in the middle of a confusing blob of comorbid illnesses that modern medical science doesn’t yet understand. So far, what we do know is that there are clear signs of damage to the immune and nervous systems with mitochondrial involvement. There are also strong associations with various forms of physical and mental trauma.

I was told, for the POTS, to wear compression stockings, drink more water, and eat lots of salt. ✨🧂 At the fibromyalgia/CFS clinic, I was told to find my limits–how much I could do without setting off flares–and then stay right at the edge of those limits. Over time, with the help of other treatments, the limits tend to expand, and patients with these conditions can do a little more. This core lesson, for me, was underscored by the fact that, while in Minnesota away from the daily exercise routine I had stubbornly clung to all this time, my tremor, spasms, and balance issues disappeared.

Wow, I realized, I guess I’ve been pushing myself too hard?

Back at home, I set to work making the recommended changes. With the compression stockings in particular, I saw an immediate improvement in my fatigue. As the months passed, I was able to restart both my Master’s program and my #OCDStory edits. Unfortunately, my novel did continue to confound me.

In July 2018, with the addition of gabapentin as an IC pain treatment, I hit a plateau. I had made all the large improvements that could occur without an unexpected change in my body or a new advance in science. This was my new norm as a person with multiple chronic illnesses–very far from where I was when I wrote my original fibromyalgia story, but also a long way from where I was before Mayo Clinic.

I was able to leave the house for up to six hours a week, including for church. I could even handle a day trip every couple of months. I didn’t need naps most days, which meant I wasn’t sleeping 14+ hours anymore. I could do intellectual work for most of the day, albeit at a slower pace than before and with particular difficulty in the mornings. I could also more or less keep up with a few basic chores. And I wasn’t in agony anymore.

Me sitting outside with a red, white, and blue flower painted on my cheek
Me on the 4th of July, Summer 2018

Though I could now see potential for a happy and fulfilling life, I wasn’t happy. The realization that I’d hit my new norm set off another grieving period where my mental health took a major hit. As I would discover, I also had traumatic symptoms left over from the initial excruciating IC pain, including occasional episodes of derealization and depersonalization, a lingering terror of ever returning to that level of pain, and the aforementioned long-term memory problems.

So I got to work beating my unhealthy depression habits back with a broom. My counselor continued to guide me through the irrational and self-critical thinking patterns that had built up. I discovered that editing #OCDStory a little bit daily, instead of trying to speedrun it the way I once did, improved my mood. This also led into an important realization about my writing career, which I will talk about in more detail in a future post.

Then I made the decision, in late 2018, to quit my MLIS degree. I knew I was unlikely to ever be able to be a librarian, and it didn’t feel like the right path for me anymore. Instead, I found a way to do a little part-time work as a freelance editor online. Self-employment, as it turns out, is often the only working life that disabled people can manage.

Thanks to all of that, my mental health stabilized, and I’ve been living in much the same way since. With continued improvement in my IC inflammation and the use of various supplements, I’ve seen some of the more minor progress the fibromyalgia/CFS clinic promised me. It’s not much, but it’s noticeable. I’m able to do a little more every few months than I could do before.

I may never be as well as I was before college. To quote Mockingjay, “It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together than it does to fall apart.” But I’ve gotten somewhere. And all of this has taught me a lot. (As it turns out, you still grow as a person plenty even when you’re not accomplishing things in a normative way.)

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned are in how we need to treat each other, as individuals and as a society. I’ve been able to improve as much as I have because I do have a lot of privilege. I am a white person from an upper-middle class family that, for all its dysfunction, has been able and willing to provide me the time, the space, and the resources I need to heal. So many people out there don’t have that, and it breaks my heart to think about.

Me standing in a living room
My 27th birthday, Spring 2021

For the rest of my life, I don’t think I’ll ever stop fighting for everyone to be given whatever they need to heal–which means we all have to be a lot nicer to each other. We need to stop calling people “lazy” when, most the time, there are very real barriers keeping them from acting. We need to see the incredible innate worth in each other, without accomplishment or financial earnings. We need to stop pushing people who have nothing to give and start pushing everyone else to give in what areas they truly can. We need to recognize our significant interdependence as human beings. We also need to pay close attention to our own health and stop trying to break through very real physical limits. We need to make the best of our reality, together.

Update September 2021: Thanks to my attempts to resolve a binge-eating disorder that started in 2019 as I tried making myself a new adult life, I’ve realized that I likely am on the autism spectrum. Echoes of this reality can be seen throughout my mental and chronic illness stories. This self-diagnosis brings my chronic illness crisis full-circle. I believe autistic burnout contributed to the crisis and that understanding my autism will allow me to finally transition away and finish recovering.

Thanks for reading! However this life story continues, I’m going to continue telling fictional stories about people with disabilities because it’s much needed (and relevant to my interests and experience). I am so grateful for all I’ve been given that has gotten me this far, and I’m grateful for people who care enough to listen and act. 💜

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About My Life

27 Lessons from 27 Years

Today is my 27th birthday! 💃🏻 27 is a good strong number, so I’m pretty thrilled. (Although I basically still think of myself as ~21, so.) Anyway, two years ago, on my original blog, I posted a list of 25 lessons I had learned from my 25 years of life. I’m pretty proud of that post, so I thought I would bring it over here for a bonus today! I’ll just add a couple more points to round it out to the modern day.

Banner of pictures of me (and my cat) for 27

1) It’s okay to not be okay. This is the top thing that I would want to tell my younger self. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling guilty about my own emotions, but it’s okay to not be happy. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to seek out help, and it’s okay to keep having a difficult time even after that. (Toxic positivity is not The Way.)

2) Don’t be afraid of “wasted time” because you’re always learning something. When I was at my sickest, I was distraught at the thought that I wasn’t learning or growing or developing as a person. But afterwards I realized that I’d actually matured quite a bit, even though all I “did” was sit in bed and watch TV. You don’t have to always be accomplishing things in order to learn.

3) The world is both a horrible and a beautiful place. That’s what comes of imperfection. It’s important to see the beautiful, but ignoring the horrible is not the way to live either. Some people will try to do that anyway. You cannot force them to recognize reality.

4) You don’t have to save the world by yourself. One of the beautiful things about humanity is that we live together. We are interdependent creatures who use the mechanism of society to protect each other. That means individuals don’t have to make up for all the horrible things in the world by themselves (and indeed, we can’t–the burden is too great, and everyone needs help at some time or another). It’s groups of people together who will make change. Even Jesus Himself didn’t fix the world. He created a way for there to be both justice and mercy in the eternities, but God, and everyone out there who is suffering, needs us to work together to make things better in the now.

5) ​You don’t have to “save” a man–or anyone else–to be worth loving. My OCD made me believe there was something wrong with me for the longest time, something that I needed to fix in order to be a worthy human being like everyone else. I thought the way I could fix it was by saving or fixing or otherwise supporting a guy. But girls don’t need guys to make them good people. I don’t have to support a “hero,” I can be the heroine of my own story.

6) Society disparages traditionally “feminine” things, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Being emotionally expressive in non-violent ways is not bad. Interdependence is not bad. Loving romance and family is not bad. Liking dresses and flowers and kittens is not bad. None of those things make you weak or stupid.

7) Don’t miss out on fun stuff on the merit of its popularity. I have a habit of slipping into the “popularity sucks” complex, where I resist popular things (or things that are recommended to me) just because I want to be subversive or contrary. But half of the things I tried to resist I ended up loving later!

8) The worth of a person, including yourself, cannot be measured in an empirical way. I’ve often diminished my own worth by trying to calculate it monetarily or through some kind of moral consequentialism. It’s just not that simple. We are living, breathing, thinking human beings with immortal souls, and that means we all have infinite worth just by nature. You would never think of someone you loved in this way.

​9) Some things just don’t happen until they happen. So keep living your life and let things unfold naturally. My two major goals in life have been to have a strong marriage and to be a successful novelist. I’ve spent my whole life hoping those two things would be right around the corner, striving and struggling to make them happen. They still haven’t! But I’ve learned that big events happen in their own time. It’s worth putting effort into, but not worth agonizing over. Just keep doing what you love and being who you are.

10) Life rarely goes the way you plan. This is classic advice, always true. It doesn’t mean I’m ever gonna stop trying to plan things, haha, but it does demonstrate how all those anxiety-provoking “what ifs” are unhelpful. You just don’t know what’s going to happen, and you can’t prepare for everything. Learn to be flexible and adaptive.

11) ​Rules only have as much value as the principles behind them. Rules aren’t valuable in and of themselves. If the reason for a rule isn’t a good one, the rule won’t be good either. You still might have to deal with them, and that’s why it’s important to learn how to work around the system and jump through the hoops. But where there’s a bad rule, you should do what you can to change it. (See lesson #4 again.)

12) Your body does so many things every millisecond, which means there are so many ways that it can go wrong. Unfortunately, this means you will not realize the value of being able to eat tomatoes until it is too late. 🤷🏻‍♀️ So take care of yourself, okay? And don’t make assumptions about what other people’s bodies are or aren’t capable of doing.

13) Bullies almost never have a good reason for treating you the way they do. It’s not because there’s something wrong with you. It’s almost always because there’s something wrong with them. If you remember that, it’s a lot easier to keep it from getting to you. And ignoring your bullies will often lead to them stopping–though not always. That brings us to the next lesson…

14) Do the minimum that you have to in order to get someone out of another person’s space. You don’t have any irrevocable right to another person’s time or attention or anything else. If they don’t want you in their space, you get out of their space. Not only is that what’s moral, but it’s what’s necessary for a functional society. If someone is ignoring that and is harming or otherwise infringing on the space of another person, that is the only time it is okay to step into their space without permission. Do what it takes to get that person back where they need to be–but only as much as it takes. Violence should be a last resort. Don’t infringe any longer or any more than you have to.

15) Different people in similar situations react differently. This can be seen in mental illness, for, example: you can’t assume that because you know the stereotype or the textbook information or the experience of one person that you can tell whether someone has a certain illness. Some people with anxiety cry a lot (a.k.a. me). Some people get angry. Some people shut down. That’s how it is for just about everything in life. Every person has their own path, their own slightly unique way of being that is right for them. So never assume that your way is the best or only way.

16) Communication is an important and difficult skill that requires flexibility. Just as different people have different paths, they have different ways of communicating. We should all strive towards clearer communication that is neither too aggressive nor too passive. That takes work, especially if you didn’t learn it as a kid, but it’s worth it. At the same time, it’s vital to recognize people’s limitations. Just because someone can’t communicate to you in a way you understand doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth listening to. Keep working towards that place where the two of you can better connect.

17) Anyone can be redeemed, but not everyone chooses to be. You can’t make that choice for anyone else. If someone is hurting other people, focus on protecting yourself and others, not on “changing” the perpetrator. (Some people might also choose to keep being harmed, and no matter how much you love them, you can’t make that choice for them, either. This is a fact that might be even harder to face.)

18) One of the most important things for you to be aware of is how little you know. There’s an infinity of knowledge out there, more than even humanity collectively could imagine. So never think that you know it all. Never think that someone else’s perspective doesn’t have value.

19) Learn your limits and then stay at the very edge of them. This advice originally came from my time at Mayo Clinic, but I think it applies to a lot of things in my life. It’s important that you challenge yourself so that you can learn and grow and expand your limits, but if you go over the edge, you will have a setback rather than the growth you wanted. Be careful with striking that balance! Remember that balance is something that shifts often. It’s a lifelong journey.

20) If you’re unhappy, don’t be afraid to make a change. I learned this the most during college, when I realized that I could resolve some of my unhappiness by making changes, such as changing classes, changing majors, or even changing schools. You don’t have to stay on the path you’re already on. Your choices aren’t a one-and-done. Now, with all that said…

21) There are some problems you can’t run away from. ​Sometimes, you can make a few changes, and your situation will improve. But when the problem is deeper, you can’t escape it by developing a new lifestyle or making new friends or moving to a new place. This is the case for things like mental illness, chronic illness, or past trauma. You need to face them head-on and work your way through them. Otherwise, you may escape for a short time, but they will come back around again.

22) Sometimes friendships end, and that’s okay. I’ve had many times in my life where I was terrified of losing my friends. In the end, I did lose many of them–but that’s okay. Friendships can end badly or prematurely, but often, they end naturally, when they are meant to. And the fact that they end doesn’t diminish their value. The same goes for many other things, like hobbies or trunking a novel.

​23) The human mind is more terrifying than anything else out there. I lost a lot of my innocence around fourth grade, when I had an intense, months-long episode of melissophobia. Afterwards, I was sobered by the fact that my mind could create such darkness. I’d never imagined that kind of twisted fearfulness could exist inside me. It took me a while to start trusting myself again. Mental illnesses like that are just one example of the awe-inspiring power of the human mind.

24) You can endure more than you could ever imagine. Whatever the darkness you find inside yourself, whatever the trials you face, know that human beings are capable of incredible resilience. Humans have endured unimaginable suffering all around the world, all throughout history. That fact isn’t a happy one, but it does offer some hope. When you hit your darkest moments, remember that you have more strength than you know. You have the power to make the best of your circumstances, whatever that may mean.

25) You deserve to be treated with respect. Everyone does. If someone is mistreating you, you don’t have to put up with it. It doesn’t matter if they’re “a good person” or really popular or well-liked. It doesn’t matter if you ​like them. You deserve better. Likewise, it’s not necessary to understand something or someone to respect them. Understanding is great, but create that foundation first with basic respect.

26) Trauma does a ton of damage to people. Per #24, you can survive much more than you might imagine, but trauma also leaves lasting scars. We have to protect each other, especially children, who are the most vulnerable when it comes to this. If you’ve been through trauma, while you may never fully heal, do know that you can find your way to a better life. Give yourself the time and seek out what resources you can access to guide you in that.

27) Everyone should be given the time, the space, and the resources they need to heal. I’ll discuss this more in a later post this month, but from my experiences with illness and trauma, I’ve learned that we as individuals and a society need to act with greater kindness and not push each other (or ourselves) too much. Again, there’s not one single way to live, and there’s not one single timeline. Let healing happen the way it needs to, however long that takes.

Those are my 27 lessons from my 27 years so far. Thank you for reading!

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About My Life · About Writing

My Authorly Bucket List

Hey, friend! For this month’s reposted content, I’m sharing my authorly bucket list, which I first published on my original blog in April 2020. A couple of items have been added since then–but none have yet been crossed off. Here they are: what I’d like to accomplish as an author in my lifetime!

My Authorly Bucket List

1) Sign a contract with a literary agent. I have yet to achieve the very first step towards traditional publication despite many attempts. I look forward to making this professional connection and having another person on my team!

2) Publish a novel. This is the big one I’ve been looking forward to for years and years! It’s only the hoped-for beginning, of course, but it would be a huge step all by itself.

3) Run a book giveaway. Once I have a book to promote, I plan to run at least one giveaway. Since I’ve won many books from giveaways in the past, I’m excited to offer the same chance to others.

4) Hold a book release party. I’m not sure where I’d have one–the library is the only place in my little town that seems appropriate–but I’ve seen photos from the parties authors hold when they release a new book, and it looks delightful. There are cupcakes with book covers on them, y’all! Even if it was very small, I’d love having such a party.

5) See my book on a shelf in my local library. I’ve had this image in my head ever since I first realized I wanted to be a novelist, I love the library, and I’d be thrilled to see my book there among the others I’ve enjoyed! I’d also be excited to see it in “shelfies” of all kinds from all over. 

6) Publish another novel. People say that the second book is the hardest, and a lot of writers do end up dropping out of the field after their first book comes out. I want to make a career of this, and that means getting past the second book hurdle.

7) Earn out an advance. In publishing, you receive an advance payment when you sign a book deal with a publisher. You then don’t see any more money from that book until the book has earned a larger amount than your advance was. This is called “earning out,” and a lot of writers never see it happen! I hope I do; I hope I get some royalties someday.

8) Receive a fan letter. Even just a single positive letter would buoy up my soul so much. To know that I’ve had an impact on a stranger’s life through my writing would be huge. 💜

9) ​See fanart made of one of my books. I adore fanart, and I know ​I’d be all over any fanart that was made of my creations. I’d save it on my computer and maybe even buy it for display in my house if it was for sale!

10) Hit a bestseller list. There are a few of these, of which the New York Times version is the most famous. I know from what others have said that the bestseller list is a bit of a crapshoot–it’s not the most accurate as to actual sales, and there are ways to game the system. I’d like to get on one anyway.

11) Get a starred review. I don’t know a whole lot about this, but I know that starred reviews from professional reviewers like Kirkus are a big deal! So yeah, I’d like one.

12) Get a book published outside the U.S. Some American books end up getting foreign rights deals, where a publisher from outside the U.S. will publish it, often in another language. I think it would be amazing to have that happen.

11) Have one of my books featured in a book box. I haven’t ever gotten one myself, but I love looking at pictures of subscription book boxes that feature newly released YA novels along with themed merch from various fandoms. I think it would be awesome to have one of my books be in one!

12) Participate in WriteOnCon as a published author. I’ve been a fan of WriteOnCon, a low-cost online kid lit writers conference, for years. It’s done a lot to improve my query game, if nothing else. I’d love to give back by being a part of the other side of the conference, whether through a panel, a blog post, a video, or official forum participation.

13) Attend an in-person conference or event as a published author. Because of my disabilities, I won’t be able to attend as many in-person events as most published authors. However, I loved the conferences I attended before I got so sick, and I love online conferences too, so I do want to go to at least one in-person event once I’m published.

14) Be in someone else’s book acknowledgements. I already have a few writing friends, but I hope to make more in the future, and I’d love to be an important enough part of their lives to earn a spot in the acknowledgements of one of their books!

15) Win a book award. I don’t know much about this either, but some books I adore have won big awards, including Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. I’d love to achieve something like that!

16) Have one of my books made into a movie or TV show. Since I joined Netflix and started watching TV show book adaptations there, I’ve realized that TV shows tend to do a better job at adapting books (or at least book series) than movies do. I think the extended time allows for a more direct interpretation. However, most of my writing is in the form of standalone novels, so I’m not against the idea of a movie either. This is a stretch goal, of course–most books do not get adapted–but it would be truly awesome.

BONUS: Have a long-term romantic relationship
Get married to a good guy.
Travel somewhere outside the United States.
See a musical live in person.

Learn more Spanish.
Have a whole library room in my house dedicated to books (preferably with a cool secret entrance).

There you have it! What do you think? 


About Disabilities · About My Life

Obsessive-Compulsive: My Story

Now that I’ve reposted the story of how I developed and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it’s time to share the story of my struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This was originally posted on my old blog in December 2014 and has undergone some edits.

(This post contains discussion of suicidal thoughts, compulsive self-injury, body image issues, and sexual harassment and assault.)

I’ve had the hallmarks of an anxious personality since I was very little. As a child, I was bossy, stubborn, and precocious, desperate both for reassurance from others and control over my own life. Adults often described me as “high-strung” or “moody.” My first ballet teacher said that I was “the only three-year-old she knew who PMSed.” I had screaming fits about vaccinations and hair brushes and swimming pools and basically everything that seemed somewhat threatening. I cried at the slightest provocation.

Me as a three year old in a flowery pink dress and hat
Who, me? Spring 1997

The first obsessive-compulsive episode that I remember having was at the age of eight years old, after my mom first told me about sex. Prior to that, I had operated under the idealistic assumption that God magically made you pregnant when it was the right time. The base physical reality horrified me. This aversion to sex is something I’ve continued to struggle with ever since. Distorted societal and religious education about sexuality is one part of the problem. In 2020, I figured out that I’m demisexual, which is also key to this aversion. I’ll talk about that more in a future post.

Because I couldn’t understand why anyone would have sex willingly, my mind jumped straight to rape, and it would not let that idea go. From then on, when I played with my Barbies, they somehow always ended up getting raped by monsters or mythological figures. It was my first real compulsion, and it was both distressing and uncontrollable. Though I didn’t want to do it, I couldn’t make it stop. I ended up throwing away all my dolls to get away from it. Mom mourned the fact that her little girl was growing up, and I let her believe that was the reason because I had no way to explain the truth.

While I was still struggling with my Barbie compulsion, my family moved from the city where I was born to the small town where I grew up. That’s when my mental illness became more public. I went camping for the first time with the Girl Scouts, which was supposed to be all good fun. As it turns out, I am not the outdoor type. After struggling to force myself to use the spider-infested outhouse, I went with the campers to visit a magic tree you could make wishes on. As a girl who loved stories, myths, and legends, I was very excited about this.

But the magic tree was the opposite of magical for me. As we stood listening to its story, a swarm of bees came down from higher up in the mountains and started stinging people. I didn’t get stung, but seeing everyone else hurt and scared set off a panic attack that continued long after they had all calmed down. They tried to comfort me then, but I was inconsolable. All the stress of the past few months seemed to coalesce. Mom had to take me home early, and for four months or so, I suffered from an extreme fear of bees, also known as melissophobia.

When people say that they have a “phobia” of something, most of the time, they’re referring to a regular fear. But a clinical phobia is actually a terror so strong that it destroys your everyday functioning. Panic ruled over me both night and day, seizing control in a deep and instinctive way. I was in a never-ending nightmare where all I could think about was bees. I researched them and came up with a list of rules that I used to protect myself: no wearing bright colors, no wearing the color black, no wearing perfume, no interacting with flowers, no going outside unless absolutely necessary, and definitely no going outside with food. When it came to flying bugs, I ran screaming first and asked questions later. I broke school rules by hiding in the coat closet at recess.

I threw this lovely vest away because of those rules, Fall 2003

During outdoors PE one day, the sight of a bee set off another panic attack. I fled, screaming and crying, to my regular classroom. When my teacher opened the door, my entire body filled with desperate relief. But my teacher looked at me like I was a monster. I was sent to the principal and school counselor, who lectured me about how education was far more important than my silly little fears. It was clear they didn’t understand me. I didn’t understand me. No one ever said the word “phobia.” No one ever gave me the power to understand what I was going through. The entire experience was a major loss of innocence for me–for the first time, I saw how darkness could unexpectedly come from within, and I was shaken and haunted by the reality of my own self.

The phobia ended after I got an accidental dose of exposure therapy. While I was hugging the wall outside at recess, a bee flew by and grazed me with its stinger. The shock of that event snapped me out of my nightmare state. The visceral fear still often welled up. I had to work hard to control myself, conversationally asking all the bees I passed outside not to hurt me. If I was trapped in a room with a bee, I still had a panic attack. But my entire perspective shifted, pushing me past the worst of the phobia. Over time, little by little, my fear decreased.

However, there were many long-term physical and mental effects of my phobia, including chronic headaches and increased sensitivity overall. Something was clearly wrong with me. Part of me shied away from facing it, but another part of me was determined to find the truth. I developed an interest in psychology, and my desire to use creative writing to better understand myself also grew. I needed to understand myself. I was terrified of myself.

When you have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), it tends to center on what you care most about in life. My core obsession is personal moral perfection, also known as moral scrupulosity. My secondary obsession, for a long time, was body image, categorized as the separate but related condition of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). My tertiary obsession is with romance, which is referred to as relationship OCD.

I began developing the body image issues soon after the bee incident. They came from a combination of family issues and my moral OCD making me feel that I had to make up for my lacking integral worth with a beautiful outward image. It started with my nose. Distressed with the way it looked, I began wearing concealer and trying out new facial products that were meant to minimize pores and decrease redness. I hid my face from people, terrified of them seeing it without makeup and even worried of them looking too closely when I did have makeup on. The issue gradually “spread” across my face, though multiple people, including dermatologists, told me my skin was lovely and healthy.

People with body image issues like BDD often suffer from a kind of hallucination where they literally see something in the mirror that isn’t real. In my case, I often saw an eruption of pus-filled pimples, gigantic pores, and general redness across my face, with my nose forming the strawberry-like centerpiece of the imagined disfigurement. My mind basically zoomed in on any small imperfection until it formed my entire image. I was also sensitive about other body parts at various times: my stomach, my hair, my jawline. Sometimes I would have a freakout about something, only to discover the next day that it looked perfectly fine.

Me in fifth grade, looking perfectly all right despite tilted glasses and a rumpled shirt
I hated this picture, Fall 2004

Meanwhile, I struggled with the feeling that something was deeply wrong with me, that in some way I had broken or ruined the beautiful soul God had given me. I felt unworthy, unstable, and misplaced. With my combined religious and relationship OCD, I came to believe I was destined to “save” someone with my love, and that in doing so, I would be able to “fix” myself.

When I was in sixth grade, our family doctor realized that something was different about my youngest brother. One of the many possible diagnoses was sensory integration disorder, which is now considered a part of the autism spectrum, and for a while, my family thought I had it, too. A year and a half later, my brother was diagnosed with autism. My problems, which seemed so much smaller than his, faded into the background. I had at least discovered through research what a phobia was, but I didn’t know how to make right my inner brokenness.

I did my best to make myself ​into someone as perfect as possible. As I went through the crucible that was middle school, I struggled to act more “normal” while also strictly adhering to all the guidelines set out by my church, my parents, and my teachers. I strove to excel in my grades, in my cello-playing, in my outward image, in my religious observance, in my every choice. I hoped that eventually this would make me enough, but I knew I would have to work a thousand times harder to be half as good as other people. I wrote thousands of pages in my diaries ruminating on what was right and wrong and planning the details of my life. I was torn between the urge to overshare so people could run in the other direction before I got attached to them and the need to at least present myself as a worthy person. Any challenge to my morality threw me into a spiral of self-hatred where I had to justify myself not only to the challenger but also to my own unrelenting mind. I cried all the time. I constantly sought reassurance from the people I trusted.

This was all exacerbated when I first fell in love. I had always been a romantic who aspired towards marriage, but none of my childhood crushes came anywhere near the intensity of the feelings I had for the guy I met and fell for in seventh grade. I didn’t choose him. I actually hated him at first. He was reckless, brash, and often cruel. We had no interests in common. But I saw a brokenness in him that matched the brokenness in me, and the fact that he was able to be so unrelentingly defiant in the face of that intrigued me. His clever sense of humor, his passionate nature, and his apparent reciprocal interest together pushed me in head-first.

In some ways, this experience did improve my life. The guy I loved inspired me to become a far more prolific writer, taught me to fear myself less, and gave me the courage to push back more against adults who behaved in abusive ways. I needed that defiance in my life. I needed the push to step out more into the world.

But my OCD also turned my feelings for him into a giant twisted mess. I was convinced he was my salvation and I was his, and that led to my romantic feelings becoming a raging obsession. By the time I hit eighth grade, I was spending hours a day writing in my diaries about this boy did. I couldn’t think or talk about anything but him. I don’t know how I maintained any friendships through this; ironically, this was probably the point in my life when I had the most friends because I was trying so hard to be “normal” enough for people to like me.

Seventh grade me sitting on my bed typing on a laptop
Portrait of a young perfectionist writer, Early 2007

In a spiral of obsessive energy, everything came crashing down. In retrospect, I think this boy probably returned my feelings, but I became convinced that he didn’t. I fell into the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced. I spent hours writing in my diaries about everything that I had done wrong. I blamed myself for his lack of attention, and I did so with violent self-hatred. I wrote over and over again about how stupid I was, how ugly, how useless, how wrong. Ultimately, it wasn’t simply about this boy–he’d just become the focal point for all the problems I already had with myself.

The situation only worsened. I grew up a Mormon, and the LDS Church recommends against dating before the age of sixteen and having serious relationships before adulthood. The Church also doesn’t recommend dating nonmembers. To me, these statements weren’t just “recommendations.” When you have moral scrupulosity, there’s no room for that. To me, the stuff we talked about in church was all set in stone. I was thirteen, and I was madly in love. The boy I loved was basically the opposite of a Mormon. Someone reminded me of this, and my life fell apart.

Two contradictory obsessions began warring in my mind: my obsession with the boy and my obsession with morality. I desperately wanted us to have a deep and epic romance and save the world from evil together, as you do. But I also knew that the Church said I wasn’t allowed to date him, and therefore, all of this obsessing I was doing over him was wrong. The constant mental anguish of having warring obsessions was beyond any description. I felt nauseated all the time, had panic attacks often, and had no brain space left for other topics. I couldn’t decide whether I was more of afraid of the guy returning my feelings or not returning them. I agonized about it nonstop. It was nothing short of torture.

In mid-winter, I reached my breaking point. I no longer cared about either side of the argument; I only wanted it to stop. But I had no control over my thoughts. I described it to my best friend as “the devil and God fighting a war inside my brain,” and with no alternate explanation, I truly believed it.

Me, in eighth grade, outside a graffitied middle school door, looking troubled
Portrait of suffering, Late 2007

The only way out, I thought, was death, and it was getting to the point where I was willing to do just that if it would free me. However, like most suicidal people, I didn’t actually want to die. As time passed, I fell further and further into “magical thinking” and denial, which gave me enough hope to stay alive. The obsessions continued to fight in my head for some time, but eventually, as the weather warmed again, they started to quiet.

The turning point came when a friend asked if I could do “study dates.” My mom’s confirmation that those were okay helped me escape the mental spiral. Another thing that helped was that my history teacher took me aside to say that he had read my free writes for class, which included plenty of depressive obsessing and self-hatred, and that he was concerned for me. I mostly just felt embarrassed, but I did start re-evaluating how other aspects of my life were contributing to my mental health issues. Finally, though it was horrifically hard on me, the boy in question moved away. My feelings for him lingered for years, but my obsession faded.

My mental health never again became as bad as it was in eighth grade, but I continued to struggle throughout high school. When my BDD was at its worst, I was going to the bathroom five or six times a day to “fix my face.” I sat in class unable to think of anything but when I could next reapply my makeup. I arrived to classes, concerts, and other events late because I couldn’t get my face just right. I sometimes took a thumbtack to my skin in an attempt to destroy the “wrongness.” For the entirety of ninth grade, I wore only baby doll tops because I was convinced that my stomach was enormous. This also caused disordered eating, where I allowed myself only 1200 calories a day and exercised for hours on end trying to burn the rest off. The urge to exercise became almost as powerful as the urge to apply makeup.

In tenth grade, I took driver’s ed, which was a horrific experience. I’d never been all that interested in driving, and the responsibility I felt for getting it right so that I didn’t hurt anyone was tremendous. Between my new obsession with staying right on the speed limit and the trauma of seeing gruesome car crash videos in class, I quickly decided that not driving was the better choice. That’s still something I’m working on.

In eleventh grade health class, I learned about the existence of BDD and immediately recognized it in myself. I started trying to get better on my own. I fought every day to see around the hallucinations in the mirror. It was a slow and painstaking process with many setbacks, but the low-level antidepressants I started for my fibromyalgia in twelfth grade helped some. I also tried to “become more confident,” since that was the only way I could explain my other mental health issues. That, unfortunately, was not successful. I continued to have panic attacks and crying fits, I continued to hold myself and the people I loved to an unreasonable standard, I continued to ruminate all over the pages of my diary, and I continued to believe that I needed a guy to make me worthy of life. My hope for that was fading, though.

When it came time to leave home for college, I was nervous but excited. I did struggle to adjust, but for a while, during my freshman year, I thrived like never before. Then, various stressors touched on all my unresolved traumas, and I slid right back to where I was before.

Welcome to adulthood, Early 2013

While my “mental breakdown” then was mild compared to eighth grade, the contrast was striking against how I’d been during my first semester. I was constantly crying and panicking over little things, mostly related to men and misogyny. I had to keep leaving in the middle of classes to get a hold on myself. I also was developing worsening body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), which are compulsive actions that damage one’s own body. Examples include excessive hair-plucking, skin-picking, and nail-clipping.

Finally, a friend suggested I get free counseling through the college. I argued with her about that, convinced that this was just me reverting back to “who I really was” and that counseling couldn’t fix something like that. After that elementary school counselor, I didn’t have much faith in counselors anyway. I told her that we didn’t have to be friends if she didn’t like the real me. That’s when she said, “But wouldn’t you always like to be the way you were last semester?”

With that surprising thought in mind, I agreed to try. The student counselor I saw turned out to be really kind and thoughtful. She didn’t diagnose me, but she did help me work through some unresolved traumas, she supported me in my decision to transfer colleges, and she got me through to the summer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find a good counselor at home. I also experienced sexual harassment over the summer that led to me breaking down worse than ever. I didn’t have a lot of support from others with that, and I once again lost all faith in myself. For a while, I had nausea-stricken panic attacks every time I left the house. My BFRBs worsened to the point where I was now getting infections in the places where I had ripped my skin open with tweezers.

I pushed myself through the summer with help from a few friends whom I trusted to protect me outside the house. (Less helpful was a trusted adult telling me that if I had more faith in Jesus, I wouldn’t struggle so much.) When I arrived at my new college for my sophomore year, my mental health immediately crashed again. So I rushed to get into counseling. There was an initial consultation with a woman I didn’t think believed or liked me. But I was then assigned to an anxiety specialist who immediately diagnosed me with OCD.

Somehow, though I had never considered it before, I knew what he was going to say just before he said it. The diagnosis was both shocking and obvious. Though I had previously believed the stereotypes about OCD, which depict it as being all about germs and organization, the counselor’s explanation of moral scrupulosity led to everything falling into place.

Me in my sophomore dorm, smiling as I take the selfie
A girl with a diagnosis, Spring 2014

All the questions and confusion and wrongness that I’d spent so much time agonizing about suddenly made sense. Suddenly, I had the answers to my life. Of course, my OCD didn’t take that lying down; I ended up sobbing on the phone with my mom for over an hour after that appointment about how I was “a liar” because my mental illness was exaggerating my feelings.

But on the whole, things began looking up. My low-dose antidepressant was changed and raised to a dose that was appropriate for OCD. This reduced the strength of my obsessions and made it much easier for me to resist my compulsions. I attended regular counseling, where I unlearned a lot of unhealthy thought patterns and reframed my perspective of the world. (Just knowing that I have OCD makes a huge different for me in being able to control it!) I also named my OCD “Codi” and gave her a separate identity, which helps me distinguish between obsessive thoughts and healthier ones. This concept is what ultimately inspired #OCDStory, with help from my writing friend Julia Byers.

I returned home again after that semester to try and get everything together. There, with a new counselor, I learned about how my OCD helps me as well as hinders me. I figured out how to use it in a healthy way instead of an unhealthy one. I processed more of my past traumas, and I slowly unwove the tangled complexities of my mind. Over time, I realized how much pain I had been in and how very intense my self-hatred had been. It honestly wasn’t until I started feeling better that I was able to see how much I’d been struggling. When I experienced self-love for the first time, I cried. I never could have imagined the incredible beauty of that feeling. I never could have imagined before how happy and at peace I could be.

By the end of 2014, I had my OCD under an appropriate amount of control. I still relapse sometimes. It’s hard to fight the part of you that’s most desperate to protect itself. But I’m BDD-free, which is a huge victory, and I’m able to manage my mental health as a whole. I am incredibly grateful for my diagnosis, for my new understanding of life, and for the people (and the emotional support cat I adopted) who have helped me along the way.

Spartacus, a black and white kitten, lying in a box full of blankets perched on a windowsill
Spartacus the emotional support cat, Fall 2014

I want to pass that joy on to you, too. So if any of this sounds familiar, please seek help. If you suspect that there’s something not right with the way you’re feeling and thinking, get help. You have no idea how much it could do for you. If you have loved ones who are experiencing something like this, I also hope this post will help you better understand. I’ve been fortunate to respond so well to treatment, so keep that in mind.

Someday, I hope my #OCDStory will be available to the public to offer additional insight. Writing this novel has been a difficult, complicated, and revelatory experience that has taught me so much more about my own mental state. I think it really could be The One that gets me published.

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About Disabilities · About My Life

Fibromyalgia: My Story

Hello, friend! Today, I’m reposting the story of how I developed and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia as a teenager. This was originally written in September 2012, and I’ve made some edits to improve the writing.

Even before I developed fibromyalgia, there were warning signs.

I have always been ill at ease in my body. I crawled using my knees alone, no hands, as soon as I was able to, and I preferred this method of travel long after I started walking. My mom calls it “the Kira shuffle.” When I did walk, I put all my weight on the balls of my feet. My mother had me start ballet when I was three because of my toe-walking, but I struggled there as in basically every physical area.

Me in a black feathered ballet costume as a kid
Me in ballet costume, Fall 2001

Starting in elementary school, I ​underwent occupational therapy because of my bad fine motor skills. Many teachers had me type (even during spelling tests!) so they wouldn’t have to deal with my handwriting. Having my hair brushed also caused significant pain. I wasn’t old enough to take care of my own hair for a while, of course, so Mom had to struggle through me fighting and kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs. On top of all that, I was picky about clothes, foods, and loud noises and cried at the slightest provocations.

After a bad episode of melissophobia in fourth grade, I started having a tension headache that has yet to stop. I came home from school every day and ate half a gallon of ice cream because it helped a little. I also began struggling with running, which caused severe pain in my chest, throat, and side along with shortness of breath and subsequent migraines. Despite a lack of diagnostic evidence, my doctor decided I had exercise-induced asthma and wrote a note excusing me from such activities. I was very affronted by my inability to help my class in the school running competitions.

In fifth grade, my mom theorized that my youngest brother and I both had sensory integration disorder (SID), which is now considered a part of the autism spectrum. It would explain my emotional instability, my physical ineptitude, and my general oversensitivity. I accepted the unofficial diagnosis easily. For a while, I carried around a bag of calming sensory items, including a fragment of my baby blanket and sprigs of lavender. And given the nature of fibromyalgia, it’s easy to imagine how SID might overlap with or lead to it in some way.

Me as a preteen
The glory of being a preteen, Fall 2005

Eventually, though, I decided I didn’t want to be the weird kid, the clumsy kid, the awkward kid anymore. I didn’t want to be the kid who had meltdowns over bees. So I conformed. I set out on a mission to be more like “normal” kids. I threw out the sensory items, I taught myself to walk flatfooted, and I started wearing stretchy jeans instead of leggings. I fought to hide my emotions more. I also underwent a massive cultural expansion, introducing me to many of the things I love now. I was never entirely “normal,” but I did my best.

Meanwhile, in seventh grade PE, I faced a new problem when those of us with asthma were required to use an inhaler to fully participate. The inhaler had no impact on my symptoms, so I spent the first few months of middle school suffering through PE and my post-exertional migraines in math class afterwards. Finally, my doctor gave me another medical excuse from running. Then, halfway through eighth grade, soon after my brother was officially diagnosed with autism, I was given a new diagnosis too: vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), a little-known breathing disorder where the vocal chords constrict due to stress or exercise. Since my throat hurt when running, I figured it fit. In ninth grade PE, however, I discovered that I could use a stationary bike without setting off those symptoms, which didn’t really make sense. I suspect now that I didn’t have VCD at all; it must have been something related to my fibromyalgia.

Also in ninth grade, I started having extreme abdominal cramps during my periods that left me on the floor screaming and throwing up. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt, the worst I can imagine, past the reach of rational thought. I’d struggled with my periods before that, with leakage and moodiness and irregularity, but all that was nothing compared to the growing pain.

Though fibromyalgia is complex, multifactorial, and not well understood, there seems to be a genetic element. All the above “pre-symptoms” likely hinted at this. But the full-on disorder doesn’t tend to develop until after a prolonged period of stress followed by an acute trauma, like a car accident or childbirth. Or, perhaps, a serious illness.

During my tenth-grade year, the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic occurred. People had two reactions: either it was the end of the world, or it was a ridiculous thing to worry about. I leaned more to the latter side. In September, I became sick with coughing and breathing issues, but only a low fever. I was told I had H1N1.

Me as a tenth grader in the school hallway
Me at Homecoming 2009, unaware of impending disaster

I doubt that, given what happened two months later.

I woke up on Halloween morning sick–my hips and head hurt badly, and I was coughing. I decided that a “normal” teenager would go to their friend’s party despite being sick because “normal” teenagers are irresponsible. I had no idea what the consequences of that choice would be. When my friends and I went to check out the decorations down the street, I had a horrific coughing fit. I almost choked, and my friends had to rush me back inside. I went home with a 101-degree fever. The next day, I stayed home from church, incredibly sick and sleepy. When Mom came back and woke me up, I had a 103-degree fever.

I spent the next two weeks in and out of school as fever and cough and dizziness and pain came and went. After one relapse, I went to Urgent Care, where I was diagnosed with a Type A influenza and bronchitis. After another relapse, I went to the Emergency Room, where I was told that my flu had worsened. A couple days later, we went to my regular doctor, who told me that, in fact, I now had strep throat–an illness I’m particularly susceptible to and had multiple times in a row when I was little.

Eventually, I recovered, except for one thing: my hips wouldn’t stop hurting. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, in too much pain to even scream, feeling as if a burning sword had been thrust into the side of my hip. I’d flip over and then lie there, shaking. It kept getting worse, even moving into my left knee in February. I was losing sleep and becoming more and more stressed. Finally, in March, after an orchestra performance that ended with me in tears, I told Mom I needed to see the doctor. Just after my sixteenth birthday–which I’d been dreaming about my whole life–I was diagnosed with a temporary form of arthritis set off by a pathogen. It was supposed to go away by the summer.

The pain lasted through the summer, but I stayed hopeful. Then, during the first week of eleventh grade, as the stress from a chaotic new school year hit me, my symptoms exploded. The pain I had been suffering in my hips and knee expanded across my torso and down my legs. The first night, I couldn’t sleep from the pain. I could only cry. As the week continued, the pain spread up my face, through my fingers, into my chest. I hurt all over, all the time. Not only that, but I felt unfocused and distant, like there was a box of glass separating me from everyone else. Sometimes, the energy evaporated from my muscles, leaving them heavy and useless. As a natural result, I became very emotional. No one understood how much of a burden I was carrying. Some people thought I was freaking out for no reason. But it was all I could do to make it through each day.

This wasn’t reactive arthritis. This was something more serious. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, Lyme disease, leukemia–the possibilities horrified me. I might have to stop doing the things I loved: orchestra, church activities, even school. My doctor started what would end up being a half a year of testing. I hit disappointment after disappointment as each result came back normal, offering me no answers. (The average fibromyalgia sufferer spends something like seven years trying to find a diagnosis, so I was actually quite lucky.)

Meanwhile, as the weather grew colder, I found myself struggling even more. The low temperatures bit through me, yanking my muscles taut and scraping against my bones, and all my symptoms continued to worsen. I learned to hate the snow. I had to go to bed at nine every night to be able to function the next day. I never had a moment without pain–and the kinds of pain! You don’t understand how many kinds of pain there are until you’ve had a condition like this. Between that and the fatigue, my memory and focus were failing.

The smile of suffering, Fall 2010

I needed extra help in math class. I kept forgetting to do basic tasks. I began doing things like putting the ibuprofen in the refrigerator and the milk carton in the sink. When I got my influenza vaccine for the year, my symptoms went into a flare so severe I even developed temporary aphasia. (Luckily, I haven’t had any reaction that bad to a vaccine since then.) I was also having digestive issues, swinging back and forth between diarrhea and constipation with period-level cramps at times.

In mid-October, I decided to research something my doctor had mentioned but that I’d rejected mostly out of fear of the strange word. “Fibromyalgia.” I had told her that my pain was only in my joints, but by now, it was clear that wasn’t true. ​As I read about the condition, everything started to, horrifyingly, amazingly, click. Symptoms I had that I’d not even given thought to matched with the description.

I wrote a long document about all my symptoms and how they’d appeared, making the argument for fibromyalgia. (My pediatrician is the only doctor I’ve had who actually read my extensive explanations.) I was terrified that I was wrong. I was terrified that I was right. After reading all those pages, my doctor just said, “Okay,” and started the official diagnostic test used for fibromyalgia at the time. Most fibromyalgics have at least 11 of 18 “tender points,” quarter-sized areas in specific places on the body that hurt with only the slightest application of pressure. At the time of my diagnosis, you had to have these along with an appropriate combination of other symptoms.

I presented as having 15 of the tender points. I was officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia. (My doctor also diagnosed me with mixed irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS-M, which commonly occurs alongside fibromyalgia. At the time, I had additional thyroid and vitamin D decencies that were easily corrected with little practical result.)

I left the doctor’s office swinging back and forth between laughter and tears, which alarmed my mom–I was ecstatic because finally I had an answer I could give people to explain my symptoms; I was also grieved by the stark reality of my now forever-changed future. The combination of the two was hard to explain.

Fibromyalgia is one of many chronic illnesses that currently have no cure. All that can be done is symptom management. To this day, medical science doesn’t really understand fibromyalgia and the various conditions that often appear with it, although it’s clear that the entire nervous system of a fibromyalgia patient is overactive due to various chemical imbalances and low-level inflammation. Essentially, our bodies process everything as pain. Movement is pain. Touch is pain. Cold is pain. Light is pain. Food is pain. Gravity is pain. Even for those of us who are able to manage the disorder well, an incredible amount of sacrifice is necessary.

My diagnosis set off a natural grieving period. Every day, I’d think of ten more things I’d never be able to do without an excess of struggle and suffering that could push me straight into a severe flare: skiing, playing basketball, rock climbing, riding a real bike, hip-hop dancing, giving birth.

Me in a chair next to a circle of standing women, singing in a Christmassy store
Me sitting bundled up at a choir performance, Winter 2010

Having children had always been a big goal of mine, so that last one hurt badly. I had a breakdown crying in my child development class that year after watching a birth video because it hit me then how impossible that was for me now. I had to give up so many dreams and goals and hobbies, most everything physical, for the sake of my highest priorities. I had to limit my social engagements and leave events early. I had to be more careful about chores and practicing cello. Every single little action had a cost that reduced my ability to attend school and go to church and write my books.

Basically, with my diagnosis, I had to transition from my previous life into one in which I constantly considered my physical self. Sometimes, the thought of having to keep living my life in a body that’s broken seemed impossible to face. Even now, there are days where I’d rather just stay in bed.

But three people said things back then that I desperately needed to hear. The first was my best friend, who offered what I’d most wanted: the simple recognition that my situation was crappy. Even now, what I appreciate most is when people are brave enough face the truth of my situation and acknowledge its ugliness without trying to squirm their way out through health advice or false positivity. The second person who helped me was my government teacher, who told me that that he believed I’d eventually figure out where my limits were and how to balance my priorities. The third person was my orchestra standpartner, who, when I started crying in class one day, came over and hugged me. He didn’t say a word, but the gesture was worth a thousand of them.

Those three events, occurring right in a row, made me determined to find a way to make the best of this new situation. I had to do whatever it took to hold on to the things that mattered most to me, because I deserved them, because I was here, and because I was loved. So by the end of eleventh grade, I found my way into a manageable routine. I started forgetting what it was like to not be disabled.

There were still struggles, however. One statistic I’ve seen says that about a third of fibromyalgics worsen over time, a third get better, and a third stay the same. I’m part of the first group. When I came back in twelfth grade for school registration, I realized that, despite all the changes I’d made, I was no longer able to handle a full school day. As a result, my mother let me try an antidepressant, despite her major and valid concerns about the dangers of antidepressant use in teenagers.

The result? It was marvelous, a true miracle. One of my favorite memories even today is waking up in the middle of the night, a couple days after starting the medication, and realizing that I felt much better. For the first time in a year, there was a brief moment where I wasn’t tired and I didn’t hurt.

My high school senior picture, Summer 2011

I was so thrilled, I went and immediately woke Mom up to tell her the good news. She was scared that the antidepressant was making me crazy, but if she’d been in my body, she’d have understood why I was so eager to celebrate that with her, no matter the time of night. The symptoms continued, of course, but my overall level of illness improved. Through the magic of medication, I was able to graduate high school on a normal schedule–with a 4.13 GPA, no less!

For a continuation of my chronic illness story, in which I later developed multiple other conditions, check out this post.

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About Disabilities · About My Books · About My Life

A Journey Through My Life

This week, for my very first repost of content from my original blog, I’m sharing an updated and revised biography! You know, in case I’m famous one day and people want an official life story to refer to. This post combines two previous posts, one from August 2012 and one from September 2019.

(This post contains discussion of suicidal thoughts.)

I was born in 1994 in Albuquerque, the largest city in the state of New Mexico. I was an adorable little thing, talkative, feminine, and precocious, though also sensitive, perfectionistic, and physically inept. When I started walking, I did it entirely on my toes. I also was obsessed with the Disney movie The Little Mermaid, which revealed both my musical skills and my romantic nature.

My first brother was born when I was three, and I started my education at a nice but useless preschool. Later, I moved to a public school kindergarten, where I learned to read. I devoured knowledge, so I’d always loved being read to, but I was pretty average at first with phonics. Then, all at once, while I was looking over Clifford’s ABCs, something clicked. I now could read most words with very little effort, a shift that shocked my teacher with its suddenness.

Baby me
Me in Spring 1995

In first grade, my mom decided to move me to an experimental school where we were homeschooled half the day and taught in a flexible, mixed-grade classroom the other half. It was fantastic. That schooling setup allowed me more freedom to learn at my own pace and level. It was here too that I first got into creative writing. At the end of the year, we each had to do a big project, and my mom and I chose writing. I was invited afterwards to read one of my stories to my brother’s preschool class. Sitting there, with all those little faces gazing up at me, I knew deep in my soul that this was how I could make the most difference in the world.

The next few years had good and bad moments. When I was seven, my second brother was born, and when I was eight, my mom gave me The Talk, which began my struggle with mental illness (so far as I remember). I’ll talk about that more in a future post. During the last couple months of third grade, my family moved to the smaller NM town where I’ve lived since. It was a good place for me growing up–but the stress of the move was too much for my easily overwhelmed mind.

After a summertime incident at Girl Scout camp, I experienced about four months of melissophobia–an extreme fear of bees–which really shook me. The adults around me, including a school counselor, didn’t know how to deal with it; I only figured out what it was later through research. That pivotal moment led to me developing a few new physical issues along with a more deeply broken sense of self. As a result, I became fascinated by human-related subjects like psychology, and I started trying to write a full-length novel. I hoped it would allow me to help and inspire others and to make sense of myself and my experiences. (I also very much wanted to see my name on a library shelf.) Around this time, I began playing cello, too.

Writing a novel, especially when you’re that young, is not easy. I attempted it many times before I achieved a story of 100 pages, which my eleven-year-old self then considered to be a full-length novel. I was so thrilled to finally have a book written! Soon after, I finished my second novel, herein called #IceEnchantressStory, and in my Gifted and Talented class, I got to work with a publicist from a minor publisher. From her, I learned about query letters. This led to, that summer, me querying publishers and literary agents for the first time, even though I couldn’t really do it correctly. I submitted an early draft manuscript from my mom’s email with the help of our library’s latest copy of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. Of the 12 rejections I received for that novel, I was most upset by Scholastic’s reply, where they said that they didn’t publish children because they might be embarrassed about their writing when they were older. (RUDE.)

Then the culture shock of middle school hit my sheltered seventh grade self hard. As I continued to struggle with a persistent feeling that something was very wrong with me, I put a lot of effort into teaching myself to be more “normal.” I was also gradually realizing that a trusted adult had been and still was abusing me and other people I loved, which made me all the more desperate to have my words be heard. But I wouldn’t be who I am without all that–especially my very intense first love.

That love defined my existence for the next four-and-a-half years, even though it never led anywhere in reality. It was very hard on my mental health, but gave birth to my most prolific period of writing. My mother also gave me permission around this time to join Scholastic’s heavily moderated Write It message boards, where I learned a lot more about publishing and met my best writing friends! As I wrote more books, I started transitioning from writing MG fantasy to writing YA speculative fiction.

Seventh grade me
Me in Fall 2006

Eighth grade, unfortunately, was probably the worst year of my life. Very quickly, I spiraled into a nightmarish reality of self-hate and suicidal thoughts, which I then slowly recovered from. In the midst of that, I wrote #PsychicStory, which became my next big novel project. I started submitting to literary agents again. This time, I was able to convince my mom to give me my own email address (dolphinwriter@aol.com, good professional stuff 🐬) and more access to literary agency websites with updated submission guidelines. Ultimately, #PsychicStory got the best reception of all the books I’ve queried thus far, though it brought me 46 rejections too.

At the beginning of high school, I wrote the first three novels of the #ChosenFourStory series, another notable project that helped define me as a writer and for which I received all sorts of support from friends and acquaintances. During tenth grade, I emailed back and forth with the agent who had offered a conditional acceptance of #PsychicStory following an R&R. I learned quite a bit from her about how to edit, but then, she stopped responding to my emails. I didn’t learn until years later that her agency had shut down.

Another highlight of that year was that I started having chronic pain in my hips after the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, during which I caught influenza, bronchitis, and strep throat all in a row. Then, when eleventh grade hit, my post-viral symptoms exploded into full-on fibromyalgia. I had to adjust my whole life to an incurable chronic pain and fatigue syndrome. It was a difficult experience that I’ll share more about in a future blog post. I was also trying to overcome, on my own, my severe self-confidence issues, with limited success. Against my will, I fell for my closest guy friend in my typical unrequited way, which added some heartache to the mix.

On the upside, my mom let me join Facebook, and one of the girls from the Write It boards managed to track the rest of us down there! For the first time, I could freely communicate with my writing friends. They cheered me on as I began submitting #ChosenFourStory to literary agents. Ultimately, I received 26 rejections for that one. I also wrote #ProphecyStory, my fourth significant project. Finally, I graduated from high school with honors in May 2012.

I first attended college at Adams State University in Colorado, double-majoring in music and English. The adjustment to my freshman year was difficult, but for a while, life seemed idyllic. I got my first real job as a copy editor for the school paper, which I loved. I started querying #ProphecyStory, for which I eventually received 25 rejections, and I put out a couple of test queries for another project. However, in mid-winter, various stressors brought up my unresolved past traumas. A friend then convinced me to start counseling with a good but inexperienced student counselor.

College-age me (with black-and-white kitten)
Me in Summer 2012

In the midst of that, I decided to transfer to Brigham Young University – Idaho. Additionally, I chose to drop my music major and focus solely on English. As soon as I started at BYU – Idaho, I sought counseling again through school services. I was there diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, primarily in the form of moral scrupulosity, which explained quite a lot about my life. I switched to a stronger antidepressant and worked on my mental health with a counselor there. I also found an effective counselor at home, finally, who continued that work. The better my mental health became, the more I realized how much I had been suffering.

Around this time, I became a founding member of the Chapter One Events team, initially created by my Write It friends, which now runs two writing conferences for young writers. I also wrote #OCDStory, the next big project that I am still editing. However, I found myself struggling with my fibromyalgia symptoms, which seemed to be worsening in leaps and bounds. I had to quit orchestra mid-semester because of how sick I was, and I haven’t been able to play cello since. In July 2016, I finished my Wuthering Heights-focused thesis of 31 pages, and I finally graduated with my B.A. in English.

I returned home to pursue an online Master’s in Information and Library Science program through San Jose State University. It only took a couple of months, however, for my body to give out on me. After ignoring the warning signs for years, I ended up so sick and exhausted, I could only leave my house for doctor’s appointments. I developed upper body tremors, and I needed a cane to walk. The pelvic pain I had been experiencing also became excruciating, which led to a diagnosis of interstitial cystitis in October 2016.

Though treatment for that began immediately, the level of pain I was in was so bad that I still experience traumatic mental symptoms today. Late 2016 to early 2017 was the second time I was suicidal, thanks to that extreme level of pain; my fear that my growth as a person had stalled out, making my life meaningless; and internalized ableism that caused me to see myself as a burden on my family with no worth. Thanks to a variety of supports, however, I was able to keep going. In July 2017, my brother and I went to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). With the advice I was given there, I started taking my life back. I’ll discuss my experience with this chronic illness crisis in another future post.

As my recovery continued, I was able to get back to editing #OCDStory. However, it was clear to me now that I would probably never be able to work as a librarian. So I quit my MLIS degree, and, in January 2019, I opened my online freelance editing business. I began writing a new book, #SnowQueenStory, a process that continues today. I was pretty disappointed to realize how slow I had become as a writer. With that blow, however, came an important epiphany that I think will be the making of my career. I’ll detail that more in another post.

Me in 2019 in a car with a Scarlet Witch shirt
Me in Spring 2019

I then trunked the only other manuscript that I still was holding onto, leaving myself a fresh start with #OCDStory and #SnowQueenStory, the two books that I’ve written in and after my lifechanging chronic illness crisis. That’s where we are in my life right now! In total so far, I have completed nineteen manuscripts, I’ve trunked eighteen of them, I’ve received 111 rejections in my search for publication, I’ve had requests for more material from four literary agents, and I’ve been through one R&R.

I look forward to updating this biography some time in the future. Thank you for experiencing some of it here right now! 😊

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About My Life

Thoughts for January 2021

General Thoughts

Hello, everyone! My name is Kira, and I’m thrilled to be here on my brand new website, where I will be reposting the best of my old blog and providing new updates. For those who don’t already know me from my previous blog or my social media, I’m a 26-year-old YA novelist seeking publication who also works as a freelance editor online. I live in New Mexico with my family and my cats, and I do my best to make my way in the world with my various disabilities. You’ll get to learn more about me as I post more here!

So, for our first update on my life: I know that it being a new year doesn’t really mean anything, but I’m happy to be done with 2020 nonetheless! I think I’m getting myself together in the wake of 2020 now, maybe. (The “maybe” is doing a lot of work.) For now, I’m continuing my work as a freelance editor and I’m also slowly editing my #OCDStory, with the help of a small local writing group. It’s all a bit routine, but there are bright spots. Like my cat Spartacus, Baby Grogu, chocolate cheesecake, and again, the end of 2020!

2021 spelled out in sparklers

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year! (The beginning part.) With 2020 being what it was, I only managed to achieve 2.75 out of my 8 resolutions. The most significant one was that I read 337 books. I also did a lot of website and social media restructuring, obviously, which was not planned but worth celebrating anyway!

Now, it’s time to set some new goals:

  1. Get my binging under control. Binging of what, you ask? Mostly TV shows and food, but honestly, getting stuck on doing something until it’s done is a bad trait of mine, one that gets worse under stress. That’s part of why 2020 was so fun! I’d like to figure out how to break out of it this year.
  2. Get better at focusing when working on things that are not quite so bingeable. Like my work. And my writing.
  3. Finish the latest #OCDStory edit. Given my chronic illnesses and day job, that seems reasonable, right?
  4. Write some more #SnowQueenStory. I’ve been working on my first novel post-chronic illness crisis for almost two years now, and who knows when I’ll actually manage to finish, but at least I can get closer to that ending!
  5. Donate more to charity. This is another one that makes sense given the struggles of 2020.
  6. Get vaccinated for COVID-19! Hallelujah.
  7. Read at least 300 books. I think I’m just going to make this my running goal for reading. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but also, yes, I want to read lots of books.

I would also like to ask a guy on a date, but considering how that turned out in 2020, I think I’ll leave it as an afterthought here.

Thank you for checking in with me! How are you feeling for the new year?

Image via Tim Reckmann on Flickr.

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