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kellyrfineman July 11 2014, 15:51

An update on Revision Camp

Yesterday afternoon, I finished the draft of the picture book I was talking about in yesterday's post about the revision process and how long it takes. I was completely happy about it, and celebrated with a drink at dinner and everything.

Of course, today I am wondering whether I want to leave it the way it is, in a first-person telling, or switch it to third person and assign character names. But that is the way these things go. And I will probably try it and see how I like it either way.

Plus I still have full book dummies to do for this picture book and the other one I mentioned, which is about a kitten. (Want to know how to make one? I highly recommend Tara Lazar's post on the topic.

An author's work is rarely done. So those plateau moments when one major thing has been accomplished and it's not time to start the next step are truly worth celebrating. Because really, life needs more celebrations.

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sarahtales July 11 2014, 15:13

Turn of the Story, Part IX

Originally published at Sarah Rees Brennan. You can comment here or there.

This part’s a little different from the others, but I hope you still enjoy it, my petals. You know the drill by now: free book-length story about the crankiest boy in a fantasy land.

This part is also dedicated to Courtney and Jen Lynn, who convinced me to go on.

Part I of Turn of the Story

previous part of Turn of the Story

Turn of the Story, Part 9Collapse )


After a week at home, Elliot was more miserable than he had ever been in his life.

The kids down the road—and they could hardly be kids anymore, any more than he was—were on holiday with their parents, their whole house shut up. Elliot felt as if his house was shut up, too: there was dust in his bedroom, layer upon layer of it. Nobody had come inside it all year.

The first day he was home, his dad did not speak to him or look at him. The second day, he looked up from his meal and said “Oh, you’re back,” half-way through dinner.

“Of course I’m back,” Elliot said in a small, furious voice.

Everyone else noticed him. Nobody could help but notice him. He didn’t know how to get people to love him, but he knew how to bang on the door of people’s attention, lean on their bell until they answered in the vain hope he would go away. He knew how to be inescapably irritating. But the one person he had learned it for was the one person it didn’t work on. He barely existed to his father, insubstantial as the dust in his room, only there because nobody cared he was there.

He threw his fork down on the table and stormed out. When he came down later to clean up the plates, he saw through the open door his father sitting in his usual chair. Elliot doubted he’d noticed the door slamming or his son being gone, any more than he noticed Elliot being here.

He had lain awake at night and felt alone for years and years, but it was much worse now that he knew about waking up with Serene, how it felt to reach across the bed automatically and have someone warm there, have someone happy you were there. At least when he was in his horrible unheated cabin he had his idiot roommates always telling him to keep it down for company.

Sometimes he woke up happy and reached for Serene, only to grasp a fistful of cold sheets. Sometimes he hardly slept, cataloguing all the ways he’d got it wrong with Serene, not been good enough or lovable enough, thinking of all the ways he could have done better now it was too late to do anything.

The days were unhappy and lonely too, but more than that, he found he was restless. He, who had always been happy being indoors before, was bouncing off the walls of the house, tapping the arms of his chair and kicking table legs and walls. He took several trips to the music store, where old Joe who worked there said he’d grown and was kind enough that Elliot stayed until closing time every time. He went down to the library, where no elves yelled at him for being immodest.

On the fifth day he got up from the window seat in his room, where he was tucked up much less comfortably than he used to be—he could stop growing any time now–and drumming his feet against the glass. He flicked the photo of Serene and Luke he had tucked up under the frame of his mirror.

“Thanks for ruining my life, jerkface,” he said, and went for a run.

He raced through the streets of the town, under telephone lines that looked like alien, spidery things menacing the clouds, down hard gray roads with cars running alongside. He jumped whenever anyone leaned on the horn, at every screech of tires, but he kept running until his lungs burned and his head was finally empty.

He went home long after it was dark, peeled off his sweat-soaked clothes and got into the shower. Usually hot running water cheered him up, but he was all alone and his own body had become a strange and treacherous thing.

What had he even been thinking, imagining staying out here? He wasn’t fit for this world. He wanted to go back to where there was one person at least who really liked him, even if she didn’t love him. He didn’t know if he could last the summer, let alone live here.

Maybe he didn’t have to, he thought. If he just showed up at Luke’s house, he would probably be allowed to stay. Like a stray starving animal.

You didn’t have to come running because of an invitation I didn’t mean, Luke had said. Elliot did not have to be more pathetic than he already was.

On Saturday, his father was home. It was so much worse to be silent and alone in company. Elliot bore it for a couple of hours, and then went down to the music store. The little shop was dim and arguably open as usual, but Elliot pushed at the door and found it open.

“Joe?” he called out.

No answer. He figured Joe was in the bathroom or taking a cigarette break, and knew he was welcome anyway.

“Hi, Joe!” he called out. “I’m trespassing! I’m shoplifting! I’m a teen delinquent and I must be stopped!”

He wandered in and over to the corner where you could play songs in privacy, fitted the giant headphones over his ears, and selected an album called Goodbye Blues. No harm trying. There was an electronic guitar near the station: Elliot only knew how to play piano, but he picked it up and played with it as he sang along.

The shop only stayed open until four on Saturdays. Elliot was going to have to go back to his house and his father.

Maybe he could go to Luke’s after all. Maybe Luke wouldn’t really mind.

Elliot shook his head at himself, and switched songs. The next was good, jaunty, with a clapping, swinging beat: Elliot vigorously strummed the guitar and sang at his own dumb feelings.

He looked down automatically at the touch of a hand on his: not in alarm, as Joe had tried to teach him the basics of guitar before.

When he looked down, the hand was definitely not Joe’s. Joe did not have barbed wire tattoos on his knuckles.

Elliot squawked, twisted around and brandished the electronic guitar in a threatening manner at a total stranger, some blond guy with a goatee and a few more tattoos.

“Whoa,” said the stranger. “Hi. Don’t worry, I work here.”

“What do you mean, you work here?” Elliot asked. “Nobody works here! Where’s Joe?”

“He’s having a cigarette break,” said the stranger. “He’s my uncle.”

Elliot lowered the guitar as his blood pressure lowered on its own. “Oh. You’re Jason.”

Jason nodded. “Jase. I assume you’re Elliot?”

Oh good, Elliot had now been rude to Joe’s beloved nephew, and he was about to lose his last sanctuary earlier than scheduled. “Crap,” Elliot added, heartfelt. “I thought you were like ten.” He was desperate enough to give the eyes for the elves a try, and willed: Don’t make me leave. “You could not be left alone with the musical equipment if you were ten. That would be highly irresponsible.”

“Well, we’re even then,” said Jase. “The way Uncle Joe talked about you, I thought for sure you were a little kid. But you look plenty grown up to me.”

“That’s me,” Elliot confirmed. “Mature. Like a fancy cheese. But unlike a fancy cheese, I can be trusted with the musical equipment. I won’t—I won’t come into the store and mess around unattended again, though.”

“You can come in and mess around anytime you like,” said Jase.

Victory! Elliot glowed and beamed.

Jase sorted idly through album cases without looking at them. Elliot glanced at the black barbed wire inscribed around his fingers.

“Uncle Joe said you went to a military academy in the north.”

“Uh…” Elliot said. “Sure, yes. Really north. Very military academy.”

Jase nodded and looked at Elliot consideringly. “I can see it.”

“What?” said Elliot.

“So, you like music?”

Here Elliot was in a music shop and wearing his Pink Floyd t-shirt, even though it fit all wrong now. Elliot wondered if Jase was simple. But he was on a mission to be allowed free run of the place, so… “Love it,” Elliot said cheerfully.

“Cool,” said Jase. “If you’re at a loose end later, maybe you’d like to come see my band practice. I’m the drummer.”

The beatific prospect of not having to go home at all opened up to Elliot like clouds to reveal the sun or ice-cream to reveal jelly. “Yes,” Elliot breathed with conviction. “I would like that very much.”

“Cool,” Jase said again, and then gave Elliot another considering look, this one a bit more worried. “How old are you, exactly?”

“Sixteen,” said Elliot. “In a week or so.”

From the vaguely startled look on Jase’s face, it was clear he’d thought Elliot was older. Elliot wondered why it mattered. Maybe the band practiced in a bar, but unless Elliot ordered a drink he should be fine.

Then it occurred to Elliot why it mattered.

“Oh, well. Sixteen. That’s old enough,” said Jase at last, relaxing. “’Cause this would be a date.”

He looked at Elliot, this time with his eyebrows raised, more challenge than consideration.

“I know, I just got that a couple of minutes ago,” said Elliot. “I’m not sure why I didn’t get it before. You were being pretty obvious about it. Also slightly clichéd. But I haven’t been hit on a lot.”

Jase looked extremely startled while Elliot was talking, which often happened while Elliot was talking and was usually a bad sign, but at the last thing he smiled. Elliot was entirely unclear on what he had done right or what he’d done wrong.

“No?” said Jase, still smiling.

“Only once before by a guy,” said Elliot. “My friend Luke’s cousin. And honestly I hated him and wanted him to fall into a pit of spikes.”

“So you’ve never…” said Jase, and did not seem displeased about that at all. “But you are…?”

“You need to learn to finish your sentences for more effective communication,” Elliot advised.

“You still wanna go on a date with me?” asked Jase.

“I don’t know, I’m thinking about it,” Elliot said impatiently.

Jase was back to looking startled. “Well… let me know.”

The thought of going back was like the idea of voluntarily stepping into an abyss: nothing but terror and darkness waited there. He felt a sick swoop of horror at the thought of condemning himself to that when he had another option.

But he could also just hang out in darkened parking lots on his own, he supposed. He didn’t have to go anywhere with this guy.

Jason had asked if he’d never, and asked if he was, and even if he hadn’t finished his sentences Elliot had understood. Jason was cute, and Elliot was flattered to be asked, and… Elliot had always known he liked both, had strongly suspected his teacher talking about him confusing hero worship with something else was idiocy. Elliot was rarely confused about anything.

Only he’d been really young when he met Serene, and he’d loved her at once, known at once that if he had her he would never want anyone else. He’d thought about guys occasionally, but in the same fleeting way he’d thought about other girls. He’d figured that he never had to work it out.

Except he didn’t have Serene. She didn’t want him. And somebody else did.

“I’ve thought about it,” said Elliot. “Yeah, I’ll go on a date with you.”

Jase grinned. “Cool.”

Jason really needed to expand his vocabulary, Elliot thought. But that was okay. They could work on that.


Elliot hung around in the shop all day and came to Jase’s band practice that night. They really did practice in the upper room of a bar. The group accepted him without surprise, and Elliot was pleased to see that Jase was actually pretty good, even though Marty the lead singer was absolutely atrocious. Elliot spent most of the practice talking to Alice, who did the lights and showed him how to as well.

He told her he was really behind on his technology, and she laughed at him, but nicely, as if she thought he was fun and was ready to accept him. They all seemed ready to do that, and it was absolute blissful relief, just to have people who would look at him when they spoke to him, who would listen when he replied.

He drank ginger ale at first, but they stopped practicing and went downstairs where the bar was turning into an overflowing room of people drinking and dancing. Alice bought Elliot a drink and Elliot drank it: he’d had mead plenty of times before at Luke’s house, so he was perfectly able to handle it. He danced with her: with the whole group. The room was packed enough that it seemed like dancing with a hundred strangers.

“Whoa, you can dance,” said a voice in his ear. Elliot looked around and down at a touch that felt deliberate, and saw Jase’s barbed wire encircled fingers, curled in the loop of his jeans. Then he looked up into Jase’s smiling face. “Enjoying yourself?”

Elliot smiled back, and Jase leaned in.

Even though he had loved Serene with all his heart for years, Elliot might have thought occasionally: I might want to… and will I ever….?

Jase kissed him. The question was answered. He would, and he had. Elliot kissed him back, felt the scrape of Jase’s stubble against his face and against his fingers as he touched Jase’s jaw, slid an arm around his neck, drew their bodies tighter together.

Jase asked him to come home with him at the end of the night, but Elliot said no. He thought maybe that he wouldn’t be asked back, but the next day at the music shop Jase was there and made sure to get Elliot’s number. Elliot had bought a phone that morning, in case he asked. He saw the band practice over and over, went out drinking and to a concert, and on his sixteenth birthday he let Alice put eyeliner on him and went out dancing again.

Jase asked Elliot to come home with him that night, and Elliot did.

It was so different to his house, Jase’s rented flat that he shared with Alice and Marty. The bathroom was filthy, the blinds broken and skewed like teeth in a prizefighter’s face, and Elliot did not wake up alone but woke up warm and had the other two laughing at them for sleeping in late.

“So, pretty different from girls, huh?” Jase asked as they made toast.

“Sure,” said Elliot, and winked. “You work out a lot less than Serene.”

Jase looked slightly vexed, but Alice laughed out loud and Marty said: “Finally you caught a live one” and Jase relented and laughed, too.

It was nice in the flat. It was nice to go to concerts. He’d never had someone his age—well, within five years was close enough–to talk about music with. He’d hardly had anyone to experience this world with, and this world looked better with someone else.

Elliot started to think, again, about not going back.

Elliot also could not talk to Joe about music anymore. The few times he came to the music shop when Jase wasn’t there, Joe was strange and curt when before he had been gruff and kind. When Elliot ran out of patience—which took thirteen minutes—and demanded to know what his problem was, Joe said: “You can’t ask me to approve of that sort of carry-on.”

“What?” Elliot demanded. “So Jase isn’t welcome here anymore?”

Joe looked away. “Jase is my blood.”

Elliot wanted to shout at him, wanted to argue, but he knew better than anybody that you could not fight people into caring about you or being fair to you. This was the punishment he got for trusting Joe, for thinking that because someone would throw a kind word to a kid that they were kind, that they could be counted on. He took the punishment. He bit down on what he wanted to say, and he walked out.

The closest he got to the shop, ever again, was when he walked Jase there. He told Jase what his uncle had said the next morning, and Jase nodded, hands in his pockets, looking exhausted suddenly.

“Uncle Joe’s never been keen on that kind of thing.”

“And it doesn’t bother you?” Elliot demanded.

“It does,” said Jase, looking more tired than ever. “But I’m used to it. I know you’re not. You don’t have to… you don’t need to make anything public, if you’re not comfortable.”

Elliot stared at him, speechless.

“Anyway, I’d better get in to work,” said Jase, nodding as if that was settled, and he started down the road, tread heavy and shoulders hunched. It took Elliot a moment to realize he walking as if carrying a burden.

There was a low stone wall running along the pavement. Elliot jumped up on it and ran along the wall, catching up and grabbing a very surprised Jase by the collar of his jacket. Elliot leaned down and kissed him in front of all the tired commuters going to work and disappointed parents bringing their kids to summer school. Elliot held onto Jase’s collar and kissed him all he wanted, until he felt Jase smile.

“There’s something you should know about me, if we’re going to do this,” Elliot told him. “I always do exactly what I want, and I never care what anybody else thinks about it.”

Jase seemed dumbfounded and was breathing hard, but he was still smiling. “Yeah?”

“Yes,” said Elliot. “And I want to see you later.”

“See you later, then,” said Jase.


Elliot found himself alone at dinner one night, and knew that his father was on a business trip. His dad didn’t leave notes or tell him about them: that would be too much acknowledgement of Elliot’s presence. The first time it had happened when Elliot was old enough to be left alone without a babysitter, Elliot had been frantic and thought his father had been in an accident. He’d called the hospitals.

That had been years ago. Now he knew what his father’s absence meant. This time he called Jase.

“Hey,” he said when Jase picked up. “I’m home all alone. Come keep me company.”

He thought it would be nice to have a place to themselves.

It was kind of wonderful, to be able to request company and know the request would be granted. Even back at the Border, Elliot either had company or he didn’t. Elliot leaned back in his window seat, glass cold against his shoulders, and watched affectionately as Jase prowled around his room.

Jason whistled and plucked Elliot’s one picture from the mirror. “Hello, someone is crazy hot.”

Elliot beamed. “I know, right? That’s Serene. We used to go out. She actually went out with me. I don’t mean to brag, but we were physically intimate.”

It was funny: it would have been agony telling someone that a month ago, and it still hurt, but he was able to say it, and to feel mostly pride and remember being happy.

“Uh, okay,” said Jase. “Before you realized you didn’t like girls.”

“What? I like girls,” said Elliot. “I mean,” he added, because he didn’t want to hurt Jase’s feelings, “I like girls as well.”

“Sure.” Jase rolled his eyes and Elliot stared at him with mingled outrage and surprise. He wasn’t sure why Jase felt qualified to comment on a basic reality about Elliot. “Don’t worry about it. You’re young yet,” said Jase, and gave him a wink.

“I can’t say that being twenty seems to have conferred enormous wisdom upon you.”

“God, Elliot, settle down.” Jase sounded absent-minded but fond, which was worth a lot to Elliot: maybe Elliot was going a bit far. He knew he had a tendency to do that. “Anyway,” said Jase. “I was not referring to the bird. I was talking about the guy, obviously. Woof.”

“What, Luke?” Elliot grabbed his own hair by handfuls in despair. “That is a ridiculous picture of him! That is why I kept that one!”

“So you’re saying… he usually looks better? Jesus.”

“This conversation is a living nightmare,” Elliot announced.

Jase did not seem overly disturbed by this announcement. It was possible he was getting used to Elliot’s grand proclamations. He continued studying the photo. “So this is Luke. You’ve talked about him often enough. I can’t believe you never mentioned he looked like that.”

“It’s not a national emergency,” said Elliot.

“Uh, have you seen him?” said Jase. “It kind of is.”

“And I do not talk about him often. I have mentioned him once or twice. Rarely. Hardly ever. Who is Luke?” said Elliot. “Have you noticed this is a terrible conversation? Because I’ve noticed this is a terrible conversation.”

“Does his cousin look like him?” Jase pursued, and off Elliot’s reluctant nod said: “And you turned him down?”

“He’s a vicious moron,” said Elliot.

“Who cares when someone looks like that?”

“I do,” said Elliot.

Jase made a dismissive sound, but looked a little pleased too: it reflected well on Jase himself if Elliot was choosy, Elliot supposed. They had chosen each other. Elliot attempted to catch Jase’s eye, but Jase was still looking at the photograph.

“I guess he’s straight? Luke, I mean.”

Elliot tasted something bitter in his mouth. “No,” he said at last, feeling prickly all over. “No, he’s not straight.”

“Ohhhh. Well. Does he, ah, ‘like girls as well’?” Jase repeated what Elliot had said in a voice with just an edge of a sing-song lilt, a savor of mockery that Elliot could not quite pin down and be mad about.

“No,” said Elliot shortly.

“Sounds like quite a guy. He coming to visit?”

“No,” Elliot snapped. “Why, you want to dump me for him?”

It felt like Jase would. Of course, Elliot had never met anyone who wouldn’t, who didn’t instantly and instinctively value Luke higher. That included Serene. Jase wasn’t going to be any different.

Jase laughed, light and pleased, and came over and tipped Elliot’s chin up, kissed him with a kiss light as his laugh. “Nah. But I thought Marty might like him. I mean, who wouldn’t?”

Elliot let that last bit go in favor of laughing at the rest. “Marty has a lip ring and Luke would have a heart attack. This is someone who finds jeans scandalous and distressing. He has a crush on this guy back at school called Dale. They’re both want to play sports and fight stuff all day every day.”

“Oh, right, boring and mainstream,” said Jase. Elliot was pleased enough by Jase’s dismissive tone to let the fact that ‘mainstream’ was a pretentious label for human beings go. “Shame.”

“Luke’s not boring,” said Elliot. “Dale kind of is. But he’s a nice person or something, I guess.”

“He sure doesn’t look boring, I’ll give you that.”

“I’ve had enough of talking about Luke,” Elliot announced. He got up and whisked the photo out of Jase’s hand, tucking it back into the mirror frame. “I get it, you think he’s hot. But you’re wrong.”

Jase tilted his head quizzically. “He’s not hot?”

Elliot moved toward him, close so Jase reached out and grabbed his wrist. Then Elliot hooked an ankle behind Jase’s foot and sent him flying backward onto the bed. He kept his own balance, and smirked down at Jase.

“I’m your boyfriend,” he said. “Only I am hot.”

“That was hot,” said Jase, wide-eyed and leaning against Elliot’s pillows.

“Just a little trick I picked up in the, ah, military academy,” Elliot told him smugly, put a knee down on the bed and then crawled over Jase.

Jase tried to lift up to kiss him, but Elliot held his shoulders down against the mattress easily and shook his head. Jase raised a hand, Elliot thought to touch. He grabbed the back of Elliot’s shirt and tried to flip him over. Elliot pulled Jace’s hand off, though Jase tried to hang on, and held both of Jase’s wrists over his head with one hand.

“I really didn’t think you’d be like this,” Jase said, a little breathless and a little critical. “You seemed so sweet that first day. I thought you would be shy and kind of hesitant and in need of guidance.”

“My best friends are war leaders,” Elliot pointed out. “Good luck with your thing.”

“War leaders?”

“Uh, classic military academy humor!” said Elliot hastily. “Besides,” he added, and cast a look down Jase’s body and back up to his face, his blown pupils. Elliot’s grasp on his wrists tightened. “You may not have been expecting this, but…” Elliot leaned down and brushed his mouth against the edge of Jase’s, smiled, leaned a crucial fraction away when Jase tried to chase his mouth, and spoke softly. “You like it.”

Jase’s whole body had come to attention: he kept surging up and straining against Elliot’s hold, trying to get closer. Elliot smiled, leaned down and kissed him, catching the small desperate breath Jase let out against his smile.

“C’mon!” Jase exclaimed, his voice on a high hoarse edge.

“What,” Elliot asked, stroking the inside of Jase’s wrist with his thumb. “You don’t like it? Oh dear.”

“Yes, I like it!” Jase said. “Goddamn it, come here.”

Elliot laughed, delighted, and let Jase go, leaned in and gave him a long hot kiss with his fingers tangled in Jase’s hair.

Later that night, with Jase sleeping in his bed, Elliot went and sat on the window seat, looked out at the streetlights dyeing patches of night orange, and thought again about staying. The moon caught his mirror and made it into a well of light, the photo a small dark square drowning in the silver shine.

He wouldn’t see them again, and he wouldn’t see mermaids, but Alice said he was getting really good with computers and he was starting to think he and Jase could make this work. Jase might say ridiculous things sometimes, but Elliot thought it was because he was insecure. Elliot could understand that. He did it often enough himself.

He thought of Jase, thinking that Elliot would be different. He couldn’t quite figure out how to say: You met me when I was sad, but I’m not a sad person, and I don’t want you to like that sad person who wasn’t me better than you like me. Maybe if he stayed, he could figure it out.

He climbed back into bed, kissed the dragon tattoo on Jase’s shoulderblade, and said: “Wake up.”

Nights with company were awesome, but Elliot might have liked the mornings best. He woke up in his room with light streaming through the windows, and Jase awake and looking down at him.

“Hey,” said Jase, and kissed him. “Is there any food? I’m starving.”

“Are you in luck,” Elliot told him. “Because I can make truly terrible pancakes.”

He made the first pancake as Jase fiddled with the radio and turned it to a station that met with his approval. Then he gave Jase the first pancake, and Jase’s eyes widened and he went on the hunt for strawberry jam to disguise the taste.

“I know, I’m really not used to electricity when cooking,” Elliot said apologetically.

“Jesus, military academy is hardcore,” said Jase.

“Heh heh, uh,” said Elliot. “I know, right?”

Jase ate his pancake. Elliot sang along to the radio, using his wooden spoon as a microphone, and Jase beat time against the table with his fork.

“Maybe you should be our lead singer,” he said.

“You do need a new one,” Elliot said. “Marty is terrible and the band is not going to succeed.”

Jase laughed.

“No, I’m serious,” said Elliot. “Dropping out of college for the band was a terrible idea.”

“Yes, yes, I get it, you love school,” said Jase, kissing Elliot’s neck. “Sing again.”

Elliot swung around and sang, Jase laughing at him as he did so. Elliot pushed Jase, who slid in his socked feet to hit the oven, and Elliot pushed the bowl of pancake batter onto the counter and moved in, still singing.

The door opened with a treacherous little creak. His dad was standing framed in the doorway, still and startled. Elliot dropped his spoon.

There was no way it looked innocent. His dad was watching his sixteen year old son with a twenty year old tattooed guy. Neither of them were wearing shirts. They had clearly been just about to make out. Everything was terrible.

“I can explain this,” said Elliot.

“I’m gonna go,” said Jase.

He fled. Elliot eyed him darkly for this treachery but had to admit to himself that he would have liked to flee too.

“Do you want a terrible pancake?” he asked his father.

“No,” said his dad, but he came over and sat at the kitchen table instead of leaving the room, which was such unusual behavior that it terrified Elliot.

He could not help but wonder if he was going to get kicked out of his house, and then he thought that he would have to go back to the Borderlands. He couldn’t go live with Jase, that would be insane and he didn’t even know if Jase would want him to, and he wasn’t trained for anything in this world.

It was almost a relief, having the decision made for him.

“I didn’t think…” his dad said slowly. “That you were… like that.”

It was news to Elliot that his dad thought he was like anything. Had he noticed the photo of Serene, listened to the few things Elliot let drop? Elliot found himself staring at his father, feeling as if he was trying to glean clues about a complete stranger. His father was looking the same way at him, but with an added distance: as if he might look away, bored, at any time.

“I like girls too,” said Elliot. “But Jason’s my boyfriend.”

“That’s not what I meant,” his dad said. “I meant… how you were, with the singing. You looked… happy.”

Elliot stared at the spoon on the floor. “Did you think I was never happy?”

It was possible that his father had never seen him happy before, had thought of him as nothing but a bitter-eyed, bitter-tongued child ghost among all the ghosts of his more important memories.

“I don’t know,” said his father. “I never thought about it, I suppose.”

“Great,” said Elliot. “That’s just great.”

“I don’t care about that person being a man,” his father told him. “That doesn’t matter to me.”

“What does matter to you?” Elliot asked. His dad didn’t answer, and Elliot picked the spoon up off the floor. “Listen,” he said roughly. “I’m thinking about not going back to school this year. I mean—I could go to the school here. It might be better for me, to stay here, to live a—a more ordinary life. The other school’s pretty intense. I’m not sure about this, but I was thinking about it. What do you think?”

He looked over at his father. His father wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at something Elliot couldn’t see.

“I think you’ll go back,” said his father, at last.

He stared off into space for a while longer, then got up and walked away. Elliot poured his pancake batter down the sink.

An ordinary parent would have been more trouble, he thought vaguely, thinking of Serene’s mother lecturing her. He would have had to answer questions: about how they met, if they cared about each other, what the age difference was. A real parent would have needed to know Elliot was not in a bad situation.

Elliot did not even know why he was surprised. Elliot had been in bad situations before. He remembered being out playing when he was a little too old for a babysitter and yet a little too young to be left alone for the long stretches of time he was left alone for, and breaking his wrist. Dad had come home and found Elliot white-faced and clutching his wrist on the stairs, and driven him to the hospital, and paid for Elliot’s care. He’d done all the right things. He just hadn’t said anything: asked Elliot what had happened, scolded Elliot for putting himself in danger. He hadn’t cared.

Now he’d accepted that Elliot had a boyfriend, Elliot hadn’t been punished or hurt, hadn’t been subjected to the terrible, cruel unfairness of Jason’s Uncle Joe. But Elliot knew Joe loved Jason: knew Joe had liked Elliot, more than Elliot’s own dad had ever liked him.

Elliot had lost count of all the ways that people could betray you, out of love or indifference. He didn’t know which was the worst way to be betrayed. He sat down in a kitchen chair, put his head in his hands, and felt sick.

He knew one thing. His father thought he was going back, so he was staying,


Elliot stayed. The day he was meant to go back, he did not go.

He leaped up and packed his bag to go halfway through the day, then forced himself to unpack. He went and leaned against the window, looking out on buildings like strange square traps and the glaring eyes of electric lights, and he thought about never seeing mermaids and never writing all the peace treaties he’d dreamed of. Then he reminded himself of a life without computers, without electricity, without college, a life where he would be absolutely trapped. He was not going to choose something so stupid.

He crossed over to the mirror, picked up the picture of Luke and Serene, and said: “You don’t even want me there, you’ll be much happier without me,” because that had always been true of Luke and it was true now of Serene too, Serene who didn’t love him and didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness and inconvenience of his love. “It’s better this way,” said Elliot. “And if I came back—you’re probably both going to die. I’d be stranded and you’d be dead.”

They were soldiers. This way, Elliot would never know if they died.

He put the photo down. “I didn’t mean that,” he said. “You’re not going to die. I don’t know why I said that.”

If he stayed here, he would not be forced to worry about his friends being killed. He would be a normal kid in school, with a real life ahead of him, and with somebody who wanted him there. This was the right choice.

He went over to Jase’s, but Jase was not there. Alice was, though, and they played video games for a couple of hours until Elliot felt less like he was about to explode out of his own skin and run for the Border.

“You okay?” Alice asked. “Did you and Jase have a fight?”

“No, nothing like that,” said Elliot.

He answered quickly because it was true, but Alice clearly didn’t believe him. “You’re a lot to handle.”

“I know,” Elliot said, nettled. “Jase doesn’t seem to mind all that much.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Alice looked wary, as if she did not want her roommate’s boyfriend having a tantrum in her direction. Elliot leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I have to go. Thanks for being kind to me.”

The next day, he called up the local school and pretended to be his dad so he could get information on enrolling. He tried to work out which of his classes he would have to catch up on, and which he would be okay with.

He also spent a while working out whether he could go back to the Border for just one more year, say goodbye, see mermaids, sort out what he could, and then come back and catch up and have that normal life with electricity and without mortal danger. He thought he could. Then he forced himself to stop making those calculations.

The next day he packed for the Border again, in a frantic terrible hurry, hardly putting in any electronics at all, wanting to keep his pack light so he could move fast, so he could just go now.

Eventually he left the bag on the floor, and fled to Jase’s. It was late enough so Jase was already at a bar, and he met Elliot outside. Jase was barely outside the door when Elliot launched himself at him: backing him up against the large glass window. Jase’s mouth opened under his, slick and hot with a sting of tequila, and it was a long time until they disentangled enough to go back to Jase’s.

In the morning, Elliot devoted himself to multi-tasking: buttoning his shirt, making toast and attempting to tell Jase that he was sticking around.

“I’ve been thinking that I want to make some changes,” Elliot tried out.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking the same thing. With your dad knowing and all. It’s kind of heavy,” said Jase. “I think maybe… we should call it quits.”

“Oh,” said Elliot. He put down the toast, and did up his shirt: he only had one task, now.

Jase seemed to warm to his theme. “You’re a different person than I thought you were, and maybe we don’t mesh that well together, yeah?”

Jase had said much the same thing before, but Elliot hadn’t paid attention because Jase had clearly liked him. Elliot stared at Jase over the kitchen counter and the cooling toast, and believed two things: that Jase still liked him, and that Jase was a coward. Elliot remembered Jase not wanting to hear about college, about his band, about Elliot liking girls as well, about his uncle, about everything that Elliot had found understandable and forgivable but which taken all together formed a tower of things that Jase had not wanted to deal with.

Jase liked Elliot being the way Elliot was, but he didn’t want to like it: he was looking for something that wouldn’t push him out of his comfort zone. Jase didn’t want to be challenged.

It was strange how different the same thing could feel. Serene had dumped him and he would’ve done anything to get her back, had missed her every day for months. Now Jase had dumped him, and suddenly and simply, Elliot didn’t ever want to see him again.

“Okay,” said Elliot. “Goodbye, then.”

Jase didn’t seem to like that, either. “It’s just the way you are,” he said. “It’d be difficult for anyone to put up with.”

“That’s true,” said Elliot.

Jase softened, hearing what he wanted to hear, but Elliot saw it now as condescending instead of affectionate. “If you were a bit more grown up, maybe…”

“Oh my God,” said Elliot. “You can’t handle me now.”

He found himself almost laughing in Jase’s baffled face. He knew what was wrong with him: awkward, spiky, occasionally cruel, inherently unlovable, all of that. But he’d always had a certain intense belief in what he could do: write treaties, end wars, throw all the knives away, make people listen to him, accomplish whatever he wanted. He was getting better at it, too: by the time he was twenty, someone like Jase would be a haystack in the path of a hurricane.

Jase looked angry. Elliot felt nothing but that strange amusement and cold contempt, for Jase and for himself.

The key scraped in the lock of the front door, and Marty and Alice walked in.

“Oh my God,” said Marty, giving Jase a sad look. “Don’t tell me you’re doing this here.”

Jase was a terrible roommate, Elliot realized. They were probably counting the days until they could be rid of him. But that didn’t mean they would want to be friends with Jase’s latest castoff, either. He didn’t have anyone in this world, but he never had.

“I’m just leaving, guys,” he said. “Marty, please, please take a course in something that will be useful to you when you are trying to gain employment in the future. Alice, thanks so much for teaching me about lights. Everybody have a nice life.”

He walked out. Jase made a discontented sound, almost fretful, as if he’d pictured it all differently, but it was Alice who chased after him, who leaned over the rail to call down to him as he was making his way down the stairwell.

“I really do think you’re a nice kid!” she said.

“I’m really not,” Elliot called back up.

Alice smiled. “Well, I definitely think you’re going places.”

“I definitely am,” said Elliot.

He stopped off at his house and picked up his bag. He thought about leaving his dad a note explaining where he had gone, but then the thought made him laugh. He just went.

He’d already worked it out. He could go for one more year, and see mermaids.


He climbed the wall alone. Usually he saw someone else in the distance, going to the Border camp, or thought he saw someone else coming, but this time there was nobody in sight. Everyone else was already gone.

He climbed high gray stone steps into a bank of cloud that was like a white cliff he could disappear into. When he came walking out of the cloud and down into the Borderlands, the whole sky had changed. It was bright, light blue, sparkling as if it had been freshly washed. Elliot knew it was weird magic sky business, but it felt symbolic.

He went striding through the long green grass of the meadows that led home. It was an easy walk, though it had seemed farther when he was a child. With every step, he was gladder to be back.

There was time to become whoever he chose. There was still time.

There was even time to see if Jase and Alice and Serene and his father and everyone else he’d ever met so far was right, and nobody could put up with him for long. Serene had liked him for a while. Jase had liked him for a while. There might be someone who would like him for longer than that. Thinking of Jase made Elliot remember Jase’s reaction to Elliot saying he liked girls as well, and that made his lip curl. The odds were better for Elliot than other people: he could look for a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

Surely he could stop being stupid, sooner or later.

The sun was seeping through the thin material of his shirt, warm as a welcome. He approached the Border camp, the cabins and the tower, the practice grounds where unfortunate souls were hurling javelins and having swordfights, and he checked his watch. It was about time for the first Trigon game of the season. Elliot was so sad that he knew when the games were.

Luke would be playing and Serene would be watching, so Elliot shifted his pack from one shoulder to the other and made a beeline for the pitch.

He could hear the hum of the crowd as he approached the little scooped-out valley, with artificial hills at its center, and saw the filled benches with people leaning toward the game like flowers to the sun. Elliot looked for the people who had been knocked out, and saw there were four gone from the other year’s team already. So Luke was winning and all was as it should be.

Elliot was so sad that he knew the rules of Trigon.

On the pitch, a guy was taking off his shirt. Elliot supposed Trigon wasn’t all bad.

Then he noticed something much more important. There was someone lurking at the back of the Trigon stands, and Elliot was amazed and thrilled to see that they were taking pictures. He had given technology to this world. He was an industrial revolutionary!

“Hi,” he said affectionately to the camera-wielding stranger.

“I’m from the newspaper,” said the stranger. “I have permission to be here from the commander.”

“That’s awesome,” said Elliot. “The newspaper. That’s so awesome.”

“I’m doing a piece on the Sunborns,” he continued.

“No,” Elliot said faintly. He felt betrayed.

“With a particular focus on the young Sunborn champion!”

“Oh my God, so quickly I see the problems with a free press,” Elliot moaned.

The shirtless guy on the pitch was Luke, he realized suddenly, now he could see his hair. Elliot made a face. Everything was terrible. Now he came to think of it, his options were actually no greater than they had been, because what guys were there who liked guys in the Border camp? Luke, obvious emotional suicide, and Dale, obvious violation of the bro code. Maybe there was someone in the council training course. That would work better for Elliot anyway.

“Do you know Luke Sunborn at all?” asked the worst journalist of their time.

“I don’t,” Elliot said firmly. “But I have heard that nobody likes him, and he is dull. And he has an unhealthy and morbid attachment to lettuce. Write that down.”

The journalist didn’t write it down. Elliot looked back at the pitch, where Luke had just viciously fouled someone. Elliot was sad a third time that he knew this much about Trigon, and also sad because of wantonly violent warrior ways, but wantonly violent warrior ways meant Luke was turned in the right direction. Elliot waved, so that Luke would know he was there. He figured Luke could tell Serene. He’d talk to them both later, and unpack now.

He pointed at the reporter and repeated sternly: “Write that down!” Then he headed for his cabin.

He was only about ten steps away from the Trigon game when he saw Myra, walking through the gate of the enclosure around the tower, and she saw him. She started and then ran, right at him, smiling all over her face: Elliot caught her as she came. She was small but sturdy, and he was somewhat amazed at how easy it was to lift her off her feet and swing her around. She felt light and he felt light, too, all over.

“Elliot!” said Myra. “You’re back! We didn’t know what was going on. It’s been crazy. I’m so happy you’re back.”

She eased back a little and he let her, and looked into her sparkling dark eyes. He’d never thought before of how nice dark eyes were, how warm and welcoming.

“Yeah?” he asked. “You’re really glad?”

Myra punched him in the shoulder and eased away entirely, too soon. “Of course.”

“Well,” said Elliot, and put an arm around her shoulders. “Good. Because you’re going to be seeing a lot of me this year. I’ve decided we need outside the library quality time. What do you want to do? I want to do anything you want.”

“Er, I’m going to be working on the school play,” said Myra, looking puzzled but pleased. “Painting the sets and setting up the props. You’d be welcome to help out if you want, but—are you sure you’re a behind the scenes kind of guy?”

“Absolutely! I’d love to be behind the scenes with you.”

Elliot grinned at her and winked. Myra shook her head and laughed. This play idea seemed ideal to Elliot. He wasn’t going to do anything crazy, he’d broken up with somebody this morning, but here Myra was—smart, kind, happy to see him—and here was an opportunity to get to know each other better and view each other in a different light. He’d be a fool not to take it.

He wondered whether he should ask her to grab something to eat now, discuss this play, but then they were both distracted by the commotion on the Trigon pitch. Elliot turned and looked where Myra was already staring, her mouth open: the sound was that of a crowd protesting, people spilling off benches and off the pitch. There was the click of a camera under the rising storm of mutters and shouts.

Luke emerged from the crowd, shaking off people as a dog might shake off water droplets, and ran at Elliot. It was not nice, like with Myra. It was mildly alarming. Luke shoved something at Elliot, then grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. Luke was a mannerless barbarian.

“Where have you been?” demanded Luke. “Where did you go? I thought—I don’t know what I thought, you stupid, selfish, irresponsible—”

“Hey, loser, why are you bothering me?” asked Elliot, happy to see him also.

“I’m going to kill you,” said Luke. “I am literally going to kill you.”

That seemed excessive and mean to Elliot. He pulled away from Luke so he could study what Luke had shoved at him. It was the Trigon ball, its glass surface slick with grass.

“Thanks for this disgusting object I didn’t ask for and don’t want, by the way.”

“What?” said Luke.

Dale Wavechaser left the turbulent throng to join their little group. Summer was always good to people who looked like Dale, who burnished while Elliot honestly went all red and peeled after twenty minutes in direct sunlight.

“Hey, Dale,” said Elliot, for Luke’s sake. “Great to see you. Had a good summer? Hope so.”

Dale looked upset as well as burnished. “Luke,” he said. “The game—”

“Get lost and don’t bother me,” Luke snapped.

“Whoa,” Elliot exclaimed. “You do not mean that! He doesn’t mean that, buddy. He’s overwrought by—winning or losing the—game, I suppose? You know sports. Adrenalin run mad, emotions running high. Sports.”

“We didn’t win or lose the game!” Dale snapped, proving Elliot’s point. All these people, driven mad by sporting events.

“You have to have done one or the other,” Elliot informed him, kindly and patiently.

“We didn’t, because the game is not over,” Dale shouted.

“Oh,” said Elliot, and looked at the ball he was holding. “Oh wow, you probably need this, right?”

Yes,” said Dale. He eyed Luke unhappily, and then his unhappiness eased slightly into appreciation. “I brought you your shirt,” he offered.

“Why would you go and do a thing like that,” said Myra, the minx, and Elliot glanced at her and grinned.

“Also, you should know that guy with the picture machine took your picture,” Dale continued.

“Why would he do that?” Luke demanded, unhappily pulling his shirt on. “I told him he could after the game when I was cleaned up.”

Luke emerged from the shirt, aiming a venomous glare all around.

“Why is everyone behaving in a ridiculous way that makes no sense? Why are you banging on about Trigon when nobody cares? And you! Where were you, what were you doing, why didn’t you come on registration day, why are you wearing those terrible clothes? Get rid of them! Come with me, I need to talk to you.”

“They’re not terrible,” Myra said. Elliot beamed, gratified, and she patted Elliot on the back. “Luke’s right, you should definitely change into your uniform before the commander sees you, but even though your garb is outlandish I think it looks quite nice.”

“Yeah, actually,” Dale agreed. “What do you call those?”

“Jeans,” said Elliot.

“Would all of you shut up!” Luke snarled.

“What is wrong with you?’ Elliot asked. “Why are you being such a moody baby?”

Myra took a discreet step back. Dale aimed an appalled look at Elliot. Luke’s shoulders bunched under his shirt. For an instant Elliot really thought, against everything he knew about Luke, that he was going to be hit.

He did not take a step back.

Luke did not hit him. “Elliot, I need to talk to you,” he ground out, instead. “Please.”

“Yeah,” Elliot said. “Okay. Of course. Myra, see you later. Dale, take this and go back to the game.” He pushed the ball at Dale, and Dale opened his mouth. “No, no don’t argue with me,” Elliot told him. “You don’t want to go and do a rash thing like that. Just run along.”

He grasped Luke by his upper arm and towed him toward Elliot’s cabin. Elliot really needed to put his bag down, and Myra and Luke were right: he should probably change before the commander spotted him. But he uneasily suspected that he had to hear this first.

Luke was silent as they walked. Dread drew a cold finger down Elliot’s spine. Luke had been with his family all summer: something could have happened to any of them.

“You have me kind of worried,” he said as they approached the cabin, shrugging off his bag and holding it on one hand, trying to keep his voice light. “What’s going on? Where’s Serene?”

He looked at Luke. Luke looked back at him, the anger gone from his face. He looked helpless. Elliot let his bag drop from his fingers into the dust.

“Luke,” Elliot said, and heard his voice shake. “Where’s Serene?”

Luke sat down, heavily, on the step in front of Elliot’s cabin. Elliot stood over him, his shadow touching Luke. He could see the silhouetted outline of his hands. They were shaking, too.

“She didn’t come back to school,” said Luke. “I don’t know—I don’t know if she’s going to. She’s with her mother, fighting in the eastern woods. The brigand problem got worse and worse, and all the elven troops were rallied, but they don’t want humans coming. The brigands are human—some people say they’re Border guards turned traitor—and the elves don’t like humans much right now. I should be with her, we swore an oath so we would always ride into battle together and always have each other’s backs. But the elf commanders—Serene’s mother—they all say it doesn’t matter. The oath doesn’t count, because I’m human and a boy. They’ve expressly forbidden me to go. There are, um, orders to shoot me on sight. Serene felt she had to go without me, for her people. She didn’t have a choice. And then you weren’t here, and word came back that the fighting had turned—that it was really bad. I haven’t had any word from her. I don’t know what to do.”

Luke put his face in his hands, as if he was tired beyond words. Elliot stared at his bag in the dust, at his shadow. He went and sat beside Luke, leaning against his shoulder. He looked at his own hands, hanging empty between his knees. He did not know what to do either.

Serene, Serene, Serene. If he had never come back, he would always have imagined her back at school with Luke, riding, fighting, laughing her rare sweet laugh. He would have believed she was safe.

He had lived all summer in a world where the idea of death was so faraway it was laughable, and now he had come back here. He had wanted to.

kellyrfineman July 10 2014, 15:22

A report from Revision Camp

Hello, pretties! *waves madly at people in the internet*

I am still enjoying my revision camp, although I have to confess that (a) "enjoying" is sometimes not the right word ("frustrated by" is often more apt) and (b) things are not progressing speedily.

What picture book revision involves

What I picked out to work on this week: five picture book manuscripts in various stages of completion, plus my Shakespeare poems. You see, I binge wrote picture books for a week back in early June, forcing myself to work on a new idea each day for five days in order to get past a sort of block where I wasn't writing because I couldn't get my drafts right on the first try. Not that anyone can actually do that, except for rare occasions where something falls in your lap, but still . . . I'd been twiddling my thumbs for too long and decided to follow the Nike ad's advice and "just do it".

This week, I expected to quickly knock things out. After all, I've been working on these manuscripts off and on since they were written, and I figured it wouldn't take GOBS of work to get them all whipped into shape. (Cue the maniacal laughter of the writing/revision gods.)

What I grabbed first: a picture book that needed, like, three more couplets (yeah, it rhymes) to be a finished draft, plus it needed smoothing and polishing. Friends, it is still not finished, and I've been working on it most of the day every day since Monday. The three additional couplets are done. The polishing and smoothing up of the rest is done. I made a thumbnail dummy (not sure that's what anyone else calls it - I draw a bunch of pages on a single piece of paper and write a word for what happens on each spread.) It works, and could make for great illustrations.

But when I woke from a nap on Tuesday, I realized that one of the couplets up in the middle doesn't actually match the premise, so it has to be hauled out and replaced. I am still struggling to get it fixed.

The total word count on that picture book is around 200 words. Experienced picture book writers know how much every single word matters, and how it takes time to get them "just right", but it's nevertheless easy to think "well, how long can it actually take to fix things when the book is that short?" I'm here to tell you that I've put at least 18-20 hours of work into the poem this week, and it's still not there. And that doesn't count the time spent drafting the initial poem, plus earlier revision passes on the stuff that was written. As of now, before I start work today, I probably have close to 40 hours of time into this manuscript, and it still needs more work once I get the new stanza written and put it in place. (It will have to rest, then I have to revise it again, then it has to go to first readers, etc., ...) At any rate, I thought it might be helpful to some folks to know how long a manuscript can take. Some go faster. Some, I might add, go far more slowly.

It hasn't all been obsessive work on a single manuscript. Yesterday, in order to retain my sanity, I pulled out a different manuscript, also in rhyme. It was a complete mess on the written page, so I typed it up and tweaked it and . . . whaddya know, it's not too bad. I have to consider whether it is "done" or needs another entire stanza (which is significantly longer than a couplet), and whether the ending words stay or need to be replaced. But it's so much closer than I thought it was, so YAY!

On today's schedule: Continued work on the first picture book I mentioned to replace the troublesome stanza, plus make a dummy of some sort (actual or thumbnail) for the second one. There are three more picture book manuscripts plus a poetry collection still sitting there on the sidelines with their arms crossed, scowling at me, but they will have to stay there until I can get to them.

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cynthialord July 10 2014, 11:23

Painting and Writing

We are painting a room in our house this week, which is always a bit stressful because nothing is where it should be. So I'm going to stare at this photo my husband shot in Rangeley, Maine last week and say ahhhh.

And yesterday I was one of the guest authors at Teachers Write for the Question and Answer Wednesday, along with Donna Gephart and Lynda Mullaly Hunt. If you'd like to see our conversations and ideas, they are here. I wondered if we'd have many questions, so I was glad we had so many!
carriejones July 9 2014, 12:06

My tweets

kellyrfineman July 8 2014, 13:41

Two things on a Tuesday

1. Over at Guys Lit Wire I have a post about a poetry collection entitled Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting by Kevin Powers. It's an awesome collection, and I've excerpted two poems as part of that post. You should read them, if you have time.

2. I'm on retreat this week. It's a solo sort of thing, and not a fabulous week spent with other writers. (On the one hand, I love the retreats I've done with other writers; on the other hand, right now being all by myself is what I have the energy for. But I hope to set up a retreat with friends later this year.)

I'm spending the week working on revisions. And by revisions, I include a bunch of new writing, as one does. I am working on several (something like 4-5) picture book manuscripts in various states of disarray, and on a new take on my Shakespeare poems, because I was reading some aloud at a reading last month and thought a couple of them were a bit stilted. And stilted is not a word I really want attached to my work.

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dawn_metcalf July 7 2014, 19:14

Public Glee vs. the Private Abyss

I've had a number of conversations that start the same way, people wondering just how much to share on blogs or Facebook or Twitter about their families, their kids, their photos or struggles, the truths they wanted to be open about versus the fact that they were authors with "fans" and didn't want to expose their lives to everybody. "How do you keep your public and private lives separate online?" My answer has always been: "I don't put my private life online."

This is only partially true. I am completely open about my geekery, my love of books and steampunk, costuming and gaming, cooking, karate, my passion for gender rights, GLBTQI advocacy and prevention education, I've even nicknamed my kids to share anecdotes and quotes, but there is a line I've drawn in the proverbial sand and since I'm not THAT big of a name, that has been enough for me to keep some details off the radar, and while it sometimes feels like a half-truth, I think it's good to keep some things private, especially when it involves other people.

But not when it's this.

I love writing--I have my whole life--but recently, I've stopped writing. This is bad in many ways, including the fact that I'm under contract, have hopes of publishing other books I've written and those I have planned, but mostly because writing is my go-to place, my solace, my escape from stress and pressure that rule my other lives* and to have that be the cause of stress and anxiety is tantamount to having my own hands turn against me, trying to choke my own throat--works in B-horror movies, but not so much in real life. It's a paralytic feeling. Being one who had a near-miss with paralysis, I'm not thrilled to get another taste.

Allow me to come clean:Collapse )
Thanks for listening.

* My other lives include wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, advocate, activist and a whole slew of other titles that involve worlds-upon-worlds that I do not share online. There is a great deal of my life that is (thankfully) counterbalanced by being an author, and I value the escape, the place to think things through and the ability to vent what cannot be said aloud in polite company. Books have always been my salvation. Aren't they yours?
** Never to an asylum, although that has been a deeply rooted, lifelong fear due to genetic predispositions in my family tree. It really helps to have a twisted sense of humor about these things!
carriejones July 7 2014, 18:01

Books and Sleeping and how Julie Berry has Ruined my Life. In a Good Way.

Part of being a writer is reading books. Well, at least for me it is.


It's good to study books because when you are studying how other authors write, you study:

1. How they make you cry or laugh or feel or care about the character.
2. How they ground you in the story.
3. How they use words, sentence structure, paragraph to shape the story and experience.
4. How they manipulate the heck out of you to make you feel something.

But sometimes, I forget this when I read. I forget to study craft and I get completely carried away with the story.

This happened with my friend, Julie Berry's book, All the Truth That's in Me. My whole sleep schedule is off because of Julie Berry's book, which I stayed up until 2 a.m. reading and sobbing and reading and sobbing and sighing and wailing.... And possibly the neighbors heard me. And possibly the neighbors thought of calling the police to report a hysterically sobbing woman. But fortunately, I think they were asleep.

Anyways, I am so sorry, neighbors. So terribly sorry. This book just killed me.

This is a selfie of the book killing me. See how I am faceless? This is because THIS BOOK ATTACKED ME with emotion. Whenever I read it, my face is a big, puffy mess of red sadness and then joy and then hope and then horror and then sadness and then joy again.

And I really have to apologize to Sparty, too. He is used to being the king of the bed, the non-human that I snuggle. And he's having some anger issues/jealousy problems with all the time I have spent with this book. I found him with it on the bed.

Since it was upside down, I am assuming that he wasn't trying to read it, but it was drooled on. His paw was inside the cover. So, I think he was trying to eat it.



Yeah. You got it. The dog and the book have found new loves. Each other. And I'm cool with that. Spread the book love. Read this. It's amazing.
kylecassidy July 7 2014, 15:19

Sweet Barking Cheese!

I just found out that I've been nominated for the 2014 Philly Geek Award for Best Visual Artist, for This is What a Librarian Looks Like, which is about the greatest honor I can imagine. The Philly Geek Awards represent all of the best things about being an artist without any of the bad ones. This is what happens when the AV club takes over the school and starts building nanobots and making viral videos about space: They're some of the best people it's been my privilege to meet.

[Newsworks.org has a write up about all this years nominees here.]

It's been my great pleasure to present awards at the last two Philly Geek Awards which is an amazingly awesome event hosted at the Academy of Natural Sciences. They close the place down and you have free-run of the building for two hours before the awards -- you can walk through the butterfly room, see the scorpions, admire the t-rex or just talk to people like Derrik Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute, Biomolecular Archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern, who's recreating beer from microscopic samples found in 3000 year old jars, Braille street artist Austin Seraphin, who won Best Visual Artist last year despite being blind, the filmmakers who did Ressurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Tyonbee Tiles, or Joel Hodgeson from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (that's where I met him). It's like being in the AV club after everybody in the AV club has had the chance to do the amazing things you knew they were all capable of.

From Geek Awards Past, Clickenzee to Embiggen!

If you missed them before, you should read my post about presenting at the 2012 Philly Geek Awards (it is pretty funny and contains photos of an alligator and a t-rex skull.) And also my blog post about the 2013 Philly Geek Awards (which includes Joel Hodgson from MST3k and 2x Women's U.S. Chess Champion Jenn Shahade). This should get you pumped to try and buy tickets when they go on sale. They sold out in, I think, 11 minutes last year.

The other nominees for Best Visual Artist are street artist @kidHazo and mural artist Ben Volta. I'd say that it's being nominated that matters, but ever since I saw that lightup robot statue, I knew I wanted one, but if there's a consolation prize for losing, being there surrounded by all those people is as good as it gets. Thank you all the people who nominated me and everyone at Phillygeek for making Philadelphia the best place to be the weird kid, all grown up.

Add me: [LiveJournal] [Facebook] [Twitter] [Google+] [Tumblr]
jbknowles July 7 2014, 11:09

Welcome Teachers! :)

Hi, everyone, and welcome to Teachers Write!!!!

This is such an exciting day. I love the thought of all you teachers all over the country writing together and putting your stories into the universe. It's a beautiful thing.

My role in Teachers Write is to provide a weekly writing prompt to all of you to help get you warmed up for the week. These prompts are meant to be fun, but also inspiring. I will try to help you think more deeply about your work: your intent, your stories, your characters. I hope you'll stop by each week to check in, try the prompts, and share how things are going!

To start you off, I want to ask you to think about finding the beauty in your work, no matter what your story is about. Why beauty? Every year, I choose a theme to try to live by, or live up to. It helps me stay grounded on hard days, and it helps remind me of the big picture when little things get me down. This year, my theme is "Finding Beauty". You can read more about what I mean by that here: http://jbknowles.livejournal.com/480410.html

Even in the grittiest, saddest, hardest stories we read (or live), there is almost always a glimmer of hope somewhere. It's what makes us read on, or live on. And that's the point. In fiction, this glimmer, this promise, is the heart of your story.

Often when we start writing we give our characters a big conflict. Even in picture books, the theme is to try fail, try fail, try fail, succeed! What's the beauty there? The willingness to keep trying after each failure. The beauty is hope.

The beauty in our work is why we write in the first place. It's why the story called to us. It could be triumph, it could be love, it could be survival. Joy. Discovery. Truth. Understanding. Forgiveness.

Many of you are beginning your stories today, so you may not even know exactly what you'll be writing about, or where your character's journey will lead. But you can still think about the themes that are important to you, and how underneath that, lies something beautiful. It's where the heart is, or will be, pumping life into your story.

Today, I ask you to consider the work you plan on doing this summer for Teachers Write. First, think about the over-arching story. Then, think about why this story is important to you. What's calling you to write this particular one? What do you think the beauty of it will be?

I hope you'll share in the comments. But I also know that sometimes, these are the things we want to keep close to our hearts. (And if that's the case, I hope you'll just say hi.) But do keep it, either way. And revisit what you've written as you write your story, and especially when you get stuck, as an important reminder of why you are doing this, and why you must keep going.

Good luck everyone! And next week, we'll get to more specific exercises/prompts as you dig deep into your stories. I can't wait!!!!


cynthialord July 7 2014, 11:02

Teachers Write

Note taking for Half A Chance

Today is the first day of Teachers Write, a free online summer writing camp for teachers (or anyone!) who wants to work on their own writing this summer with some fun prompts and activities.

I wrote a post last week on Facebook, talking about what it takes to add writing into your life. Kate Messner who is one of the organizers of Teachers Write asked to copy it to their blog. You can read it here if you'd like. Life Doesn't Permit.

And each day, you can check the blog for the lesson or Q&A or whatever the day's activity is. Today's is about setting and the activity is to go outside and isolate one sense at a time.  You come, too.

I always set my books in real places for just this reason. You will go past the common details that everyone would think of. Real places have contradictions and history and surprises. In my school visit presentation, I tell kids that when I am writing details, this is my rule for description:

The surprises that you couldn't have imagined often become the gold in the description.

Here's a photo of a setting from Rules. If I had simply imagined a parking lot for that scene where Catherine and Jason go running, I never would've imagined the hard things that Catherine would've had to deal with in relation to the wheels of Jason's wheelchair. Rocks, sticks, pinecones, the sewer grate--and because I live in the north, SAND. I would've imagined a flat parking lot, but the real parking lot was much more complicated. She would've had to look out for all those things and they would've shaped her decisions.

"Jason’s head and shoulders shake as I bump him over cracks in the tar. There’s so much to look out for: holes and rocks and sand near the side of the building. "

It's a simple mention, but it carries an unmistakable truth.
stephanieburgis July 7 2014, 10:38

Letting Out My Breath

There are some places that don't just make me happy - they make me feel that everything will be okay, no matter what.

Oxwich Bay is one of them. It's part of the breathtakingly beautiful Gower Peninsula, here in Wales. Last year, when we visited for the first time, I was hugely pregnant with Baby X and fighting even huge-er amounts of panic. What if something went wrong in the last few weeks (as it had done the last time)? What if, what if, what if - ?

Standing on that beach, looking out at the sparkling ocean, I felt peace descend across me like a soft, warm shawl. Everything was going to be okay. I really believed that, for the first time in months.

This year, I had different worries and stresses hammering at me even as we drove to the beach for our weekend away.

Then I stood with my feet in the water, looking out across the waves, and...yeah.

I let out my breath.


I love that place so much.

What about you guys? Do you have any places that always make you feel better?
kylecassidy July 7 2014, 01:35

Top Sekrit No Longer!

I've got some photos in the current issue of Auxiliary Magazine from a photo shoot I did with Megan Massacre from NY Ink who was modeling clothes by Heartless Revival aka our buddy Autumn who starred in Bravo TV's reality show Styled to Rock. The shoot was back in October and it's one of those things that's hard to keep a secret. I think we have a ton of other stuff coming out in different publications (I think). I'll let you know. Big thanks to Autumn and Matt and Megan.

Click to go to Auxiliary Magazine

Behind the Scenezez. Autumn in the middle. Photo by Matt.

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marjorielight July 6 2014, 15:56

Biking Germans

On our recent educational trip to Germany (with the Center for International Understanding), I loved seeing how so many residents used bicycles as a means of transportation.

Sign bike
When urban areas were redesigned, family-friendly areas and bikes usage were included.
bike garden
Bike racks were located near park cafes, office buildings, and subway stops.
Bike lane
All streets had designated bike paths OR a double sidewalk - shared between walkers and bikers.
One tour guide explained commuters in Munich have two bikes: one near their home, which they
ride to the subway, and then another one at their work station, which they ride to work. He said bike
theft was not a real issue.

riding bikes
Street crossings had special buttons for bikes to enter the roadway.
covered bikes
Different methods of protecting bikes from the elements were employed in various locales.

Double cover bikes
School yards and college campuses were filled with bike parking.
school bikes

vine covered bikes
This covering, one of my favorites, was in the solar district of Freiburg.

rill bikes
When I was a teen, I rode my bike everywhere - to school, practice, the beach. One day in college, while stopped at a red light, an elderly man hit me. My bike was mangled and I was scratched up and shaken. I couldn't afford a new bike, so that was the last time I rode.

After moving to NC and living close to the Tobacco Trail bikeway, I'm ready to try again. I can't ride my bike to work, as it is too far, but I can make some changes to save energy in other ways. So now, I'm saving up for a bike. Do you bike?
kylecassidy July 5 2014, 14:53

Happy 4th of July, don't blow your fingers off.

General Washington speaks with a confidant in Philadelphia.
Clickenzee to Embiggen!

"Truly Ms. Stars," said the General, "I value these conversations moreso than you can ever imagine. Congress is useless, my aids are sycophants, Lafyette, while effective, smells of a persistant, strange and moldy cheese which I cannot abide. Your suggestion that I work over the Christmas break in Trenton is one that I will take to heart. Thank you again. Until fortune returns me to Philadelphia, madam....."

One of our July 4th traditions here in the Stars/Cassidy household is a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence, usually performed by some mixture of actor friends and whoever else is around. It's actually a very interesting document.

If your takeaway about the 4th of July is "beer", you're on par with everyone and you're probably ok.

If your takeaway is "some guys didn't want to pay taxes" you're obviously trying to rise slightly above "beer" and should probably read the Declaration of Independence. If you have, you'll know taxes don't really have very much to do with it at all. You don't have to read the whole thing, but I submit to you the list of grievances outlined in the Declaration, that you may temper the ordinary festivities of the weekend with the thought of burning towns, garrisons, political murder, the dissolution of local legislators, and the number of other things that rose above Taxation without Representation.

  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

  • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

  • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

  • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

  • He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

  • He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

  • He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

  • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

  • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

  • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

  • For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

  • For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

  • For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

  • For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these states

  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

  • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

  • He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

  • He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

  • He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

  • In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Have a swell weekend!

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