Psychology student, literary experimentalist, baseball fanatic (White Sox or nothing). Writes YA novels about magic and literary fiction about psychological damage. Uses sarcasm like a (friendly) weapon. Pretends to write poetry. Sort of writes fiction. Caught in an infinite editing time loop...help! Lives in her own glittery magical world.
Also blogs at www.sarcasmandlemons.com
I love weird books. The kind that you never forget because they do things that other books are afraid to do. So here’s a list of some you should check out if you, too, love stuff that’s effed up.
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
This book became one of my favorites after one reading. It’s a post-war dystopian in a fairy world where the fairies are all disaster bisexual sex workers subjugated by the trolls. Also, you don’t die, your body parts are still sentient. Also, it’s being written while you’re reading it and sometimes the narrator makes cross-outs or rewrites parts of it. It’s like a postmodern effed up fairy tale and I’m here for it. / YA fantasy/dystopian
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Do you want to feel really mixed feelings? Somehow this book about a brother-sister incestuous relationship got published. Yeah, I don’t know how either. But it’s a lovely, confusing book that makes you almost root for the couple until you keep remembering, NO THIS IS WRONG STOP BRAIN WHAT. Definitely pushes boundaries and makes you think. / YA contemporary
Brother by Ania Ahlborn
This one is exceptionally effed up and it’s meant to be because it’s horror. The main character lives with his adoptive family in the woods and every so often they kidnap, torture, and kill young women. Except the main character isn’t a huge fan of this and kind of falls for one of the victims. Yeah, it’s got upsetting written all over it. / Adult horror
Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke
This one’s a shortie and it’s perfect if you want a fast, creepy as f*ck read. A man grapples with his infant child’s death and becomes stalked by the child’s baby blanket. Which was buried with the child. Yep, I said it. / Adult horror (short story)
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson
In this twisted horror, a man and his son keep dozens of girls prisoner in a secret garden at their mansion. Each girl is given tattooed butterfly wings and a new name, but one girl clings to her identity. It’s told in flashbacks and it’ll give you chills. Not for weak stomachs. / Adult thriller
The Last Time I Died by Joe Nelms
A truly effed up premise, not for the faint of heart. MAJOR content warning for suicide because this is all about a man seeking out near-death experiences in order to remember his past, which includes his witnessing his father kill his mother. Mashed in there is a beautiful portrayal of how toxic masculinity prevents men from seeking help in healthy ways. / Adult literary fiction
Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald
This is such a strange, delightful book. Based in an Italian fantasy world, it’s about a city that can only get water because the head witch lady makes it out of her blood. And if you get these marks on you, you have to sacrifice yourself to her. And one girl is like NOPE and goes on a batshit crazy adventure to try and find another way…because she kind of has to…because she accidentally murders the witch. / YA fantasy
Here, have a scene from my newest WIP! To learn more about it, check out the Books section of the site.
In ten days, the world will end.
This is what Daga’s mother had told her, as she had been told by her mother, as she had been told by her mother, and on and on for centuries. The world would end after the Autumn festival, to be reborn in the Spring.
And it all started with the Pageant, the most important ritual of the year.
Daga was effervescent with excitement, because today was the Choosing. One girl in her seventeenth year would be chosen to play the Pageant’s Maiden. The Maiden would be the center of attention for the whole Autumn Festival. She would have the best place at the feast. All of the best young people would want to dance with her. She would be crowned and celebrated and admired. If that were not inducement enough, everybody knew that being chosen as the Maiden was almost a guarantee that you would be married by the next year. To be secure of a lover by your eighteenth year—Daga could scarcely even laugh for giddiness. She was a hopeless romantic, always full of quixotic notions and swooning stories. To find her true love—that would be everything.
“Daga! Dagmara! You’re letting the hem trail.” Jadzia’s voice pierced through Daga’s reverie.
“Oh no!” Her stomach sank. Indeed, the white pageant gown in her hands had dragged in the dirt, muddying the hem. She would have to wash the whole thing again.
“Daydreaming again?” Jadzia teased lightly.
“I can’t help it!” Daga balled up the dress and dunked it into the washtub. “How can you think of anything else right now?”
“Because there’s work to be done. We can’t have a festival in dirty clothes.” Daga knew that Jadzia was also excited, but her joys had always been more tempered and measured than Daga’s free-floating, spiraling emotions. She shared her enthusiasm in quiet smiles and hidden twinkles of her eye.
On the other side of the washtub, Poldek snorted. “All you think of is the festival. Festival this, festival that.”
“You’re just jealous because boys can’t be chosen.” Daga stuck out her tongue at him. “You only get to play the gods.”
Playing Zerno and Belo in the Pageant were both honors afforded to someone of any gender, but only those who identified as female could be chosen as Maiden.
“No one will be chosen if you don’t hurry.” He checked his pocket watch. “The ceremony starts in twenty minutes.”
Jadzia gasped and looked ashamed of herself. “Oh no! I should have been more watchful of the time. Let’s hurry.”
Daga would have been happy to abandon the washing, but too-good Jadzia and Poldek would never allow them to shirk their work, even for something so important as the Choosing. Still, that didn’t keep Daga from rushing through her scrubbing and haphazardly pinning clothes to the line like frantic butterflies.
Pulling up her skirt, Daga raced with her friends to the square outside of the town council hall, where already most of the villagers were gathered. Pieklo was large enough that there were people whose names she didn’t know, but small enough that their number wasn’t many. She scanned the faces, wondering who among them would be Maiden.
The ceremony had already started by the time they found their places at the back of the crowd. Cezary Krzeszewska, mayor and head of the elders council, stood at the front podium, arms spread wide. He wore the traditional stroje ludowe in celebration of the festival season. The costume consisted of a white linen shirt, a bright blue embroidered vest shaking with tassels, and striped trousers. His krakuska hat with its red felt and peacock feather sat proudly atop his salt-and-pepper hair. He was of a middling age, younger than the youngest of the elders, and Daga admired him deeply, although Jadzia often reminded her that he was of an age with her own father. “It’s mere respect,” Daga would say, blushing.
Cezary’s trademark broad smile seemed to glow especially for Daga today as he proclaimed, “People of Pieklo! Today marks the beginning of the end of the world!”
A raucous cheer roared from the crowd. Daga whooped along with them; excitement like ale bubbled up from her stomach into her throat until she was almost dizzy with it.
Cezary basked for a moment in the applause, then he shushed the crowd, who obediently fell to a low murmur. “To ensure the rebirth of the world in the spring, today we choose a Maiden from among our girls who have come of age this year.”
Daga shivered with excitement and looked around at the faces of girls she recognized. Any female people in their seventeenth year were eligible. It was a carefully guarded secret every year, who would be chosen and how exactly the decision was made. There were no common threads among the choices as far as wealth, popularity, or appearance. Every girl was eligible, and every girl was equally possible. Daga surveyed the girls around her and dreamed. Would it be Ksenia, mild and brown-skinned and sedately beautiful? Or Szarlota, freckled and pale and independent and loud? Or perhaps Kazimiera, with her striking dark hair and olive skin and easy smiles?
Or, perhaps, could it be Daga herself? Clumsy, red-headed, and plain? She crossed her fingers against the evil eye and prayed to Belo. Choose me. Choose me. Her fingertips fizzed with electric anticipation.
Cezary’s eyes twinkled as he surveyed the group of young women clustered at the front of the crowd. Daga eased forward onto her toes, straining towards him as though if only he could see her, he would choose her.
“Our Autumn festival maiden this year is . . .” The silence lengthened into a vibrating, living thing. The crowd thrummed like the plucked string of a lute. “Jadwiga Grzybowska!”
Daga’s insides froze. Of course. Of course they would choose Jadzia. Jadzia, lithe and fair, her blond braid with never a strand out of place. Not like Daga’s wild red locks always windblown and tangled with leaves from lying in the grass, dreaming of other worlds. Jadzia, mild-mannered and obedient. Not Daga, who frequently forgot to collect the goats from grazing because she was reading a story of romantic adventure in the ruined castle.
Happy cheers and whoops boiled up from the crowd. The other young women clapped politely, although many a disappointed air contoured their well-bred smiles.
Moisture threatened to glass up Daga’s eyes and betray her feelings to Jadzia, who looked as flabbergasted as though she had just been sentenced to death. Daga clenched her fists and plastered a smile onto her lips. Jadzia was the last person to believe in her own merits; Daga always had to do that for her. She couldn’t hurt her friend by betraying her envy. “Jadzia, I’m so happy for you!”
Jadzia relaxed, although only a little. “It should have been you, Daga.”
Yes, it should have, said Daga’s traitorous mind. But she shook her head extra fiercely, because she knew that Jadzia absolutely meant it. “No, it should be you. You deserve it.” And Daga meant that too, even though the other half of her was clutching and cold in its envy.
Poldek beamed and threaded his fingers shyly through his blond hair. “Go, Jadzia, they’re waiting for you! Congratulations!”
“Oh! Right!” Jadzia blushed deeply. The crowd parted and strained to catch a glimpse of her face. With small, uncertain steps, she walked through the gauntlet towards Cezary and the town council on the stage.
Daga watched Poldek watch her go. A moony expression slackened his mouth and dusted his eyes with starlight. He had been in love with Jadzia for years, and everybody knew it—except for Jadzia. Another hot claw of jealousy closed around Daga’s heart. Not because she was in love with Jadzia or Poldek—Jadzia was too much her sister to think of romantically and Poldek was Poldek. But because Jadzia, always unsuspicious of anything that distinguished her, would eventually realize that Poldek loved her, and that she could love him. They would marry, and Daga would be alone.
Daga shook her head and some of the darkness cleared. No, no, she couldn’t think like that. Her prince or princess would come for her, just like in the stories. She just had to wait. For now, she was happy with her family and her friends. Her wonderful best friend had just attained the highest honor that Pieklo could gift to a young woman. And what would follow this ceremony was ten days of dancing, revelry, and merriment.
A genuine smile settled onto Daga’s lips, and with it true delight eased the sting from her heart. It was not in her nature to be melancholy; she could never sustain a negative mood for long.
Ten days of merriment, and her best friend as Maiden. It was perfect. It was glorious.
It would be an Autumn festival she would never forget.
Welcome, welcome! Today is the start of a new writing journey. My awesome writerly friend Shannon Ives and the twitter #QuerySquad and I have decided to try out a new prompt. Every Tuesday, Shannon or I will draw a tarot card and we’ll all write about it.
Today’s card comes from the beautifully stark Postcard from the Liminal Space oracle deck.
The world scorpion is enjoying the early starlight.
He basks in the glow of it, his tail curling and uncurling, and with it the tides flow back and forth, and the winds shift their direction, and the sun and moon trade their thrones in the sky. His sting catches the light and glints like the tip of a knife forged from lightning. It is the sting that forged this world from darkness. The sting that skewered and leaked its venom into the empty dome of Nothing. The venom that poisoned the Nothing to convulsion. The Nothing seized, and spasmed, and split apart like a doe’s rotting flesh. And like maggots crawling from its body, crawled forth the stars, the suns, the rocks that would mutate into earths. Thick with venom, the stars burst forth into galaxies and the rocks spewed new creations, long-limbed maggots that could walk and talk and scrabble at the earth with their own hapless claws.
The scorpion concerns himself with none of it. He Exists. Some late day, he will sting again and birth another world, or perhaps claw through the world of Now and bring forth a true End.
Last Christmas, I asked my parents for a tablet and got a Samsung galaxy note. I wanted it for drawing on especially, because while I love art, physical painting takes up a lot of time and energy that I don’t always have. Since then, I’ve been working more and more on my art. It’s been frustrating and difficult and I have to try not to compare myself to professionals, BUT I’ve also been having so much fun.
This image of Alex from Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo was in my head for a while, and I finally went for it. I’m so so proud of her, especially her face and the transparent dress. I can tell I’m getting better with every drawing, and I can’t wait to see what my future art will look like!
It’s good to have a hobby while you’re waiting to enter the query trenches. Eek.
Yeah, sure, we all read the blurbs on the back covers of books. But do those really tell us what we want to know? I, C.J., have taken it upon myself to reveal the truth about a number of popular books. And yes, this is going to be highly sarcastic, and also these are all books that I enjoy, so don’t @ me with “you’re so mean!” because I will chuckle. (For more extensive honesty, check out my Book Breakdowns on instagram.)
I know I haven’t written in a while. I have another huge writing project that’s been taking up all my time. However, I feel like if there’s any day to write, it’s today.
Tomorrow, my childhood officially ends. Okay, I know that sounds ridiculously dramatic. I wouldn’t risk saying something like that if it didn’t feel so very true. Now I’m sure that, unless you completely avoid your television and computer, you know that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 premiers tomorrow. I will be there, in line, in a plaid skirt and tie and my dad’s old graduation robes. Twenty one years ago, I was born and J.K. Rowling was a waitress living in her car, writing notes on napkins. Just as we were all turning eleven, the first book came out.
I didn’t read it. I actively chose to avoid it. Harry Potter? That sounds stupid, I told myself. A bunch of wizards in a school? I don’t really know why I rejected it so strongly. For my entire reading life, I had devoured every fantasy book I could find like it was crack. Assuming it was a type of swallowable crack. After wearing away the pages on my copies of Narnia and The Dark is Rising, I should have thought, “Oh, hey. British children with magic are whimsical and awesome. Harry Potter contains magical British children. Maybe I should read it and become obsessed with it.” Instead, I ignored all my pleading friends and refused all contact. Until finally, my friend Tracey shoved the first three books at me and commanded me to borrow them. I read them in a week.
Then there was the wait you all remember, between books three and four. I swear it could have been eternity. I was a heroin addict (yep, we’re switching drugs) and suddenly, heroin was extinct. So I got into fanfiction. Roleplay forums. Anything for a quick Potter fix. The fourth came out, another eternity to the fifth, sixth, seventh. Then suddenly, it was over. I cried on the last page of the seventh book (we’re pretending that the Epilogue doesn’t exist, by the way). But still, there was light. There were movies. Tomorrow at midnight, that all ends. The people (not characters, that’s not what they feel like) I grow up with are going their separate ways. No more stories. No more adventures. Harry and the gang are adults now, with lives and kids of their own. They don’t have time to be sharing their adventures with outsiders. They just want the quiet.
For all us misfit kids who never really made it to the upper social circles, Harry, Hermione, Ron (and Draco, if you were a girl and went through that bad boy phase, not that I’m admitting anything) were more real to you than half the people who never bothered to notice you existed. Wow, that sounded melodramatic. Really though, Harry Potter was more than a series of books. It was a world we all lived in. A place we went when the real world was too much. A group of friends we knew better than ourselves. Harry will always be there to go back to, but like the Beatles and Tolkien, he’s slipping out of the now. Already, there are teenagers who have never read a single book. Harry Potter is our generation’s savior. We won’t forget him, even once those final credits roll tomorrow night.
But that isn’t the only thing ending tomorrow. For all you Chicagoans, there’s another thing ending. For twenty years, Q101 has been Chicago’s ultimate alternative rock station. They started with “Friday I’m in Love” by the Cure–incidentally, one of my top ten favorite songs of all time. They were there counseling troubled kids when Kurt Cobain’s suicide shocked everyone. They fostered Disturbed, Local H, Fall Out Boy, and dozens of other local, now international sensations on Local 101. They’ve always been there for a song, a concert announcement, an interview, a dirty joke. Tomorrow, Q101’s DJs come off the air forever. After that . . . well, no one actually knows.
For twenty years, Q101’s djs have brought together rock fans all over the city. They’re more friends that are departing now, for a new life. Long ago there was Mancow, who used to shock the airwaves in the mornings. There are Sherman and Tingle, who kept me laughing all morning as I drove back to college for the first time by myself, fighting back tears over my anxiety over graduation. There are the Manno brothers, who greeted me every day after school. Twitch, god of the web page, offering up concert updates and silly videos. Tim Virgin and Pogo riffing about bands. Electra, ruling the airwaves with the Last Letter Game. Top 9 at 9. What’s the Point. Just to rub it in, Sarah and I missed the very last Q101 Jamboree. Lolla is great, but there’s nothing like a good, muddy Q101 show. Or there used to be. Rumor has it, all this will be replaced by an all news station. I think I could cry. The days of radio are over. Commercialism wins. Pick another platitude.
So tomorrow, I say goodbye to two icons. Millions will be crying with me over Harry Potter, but I hope there are a good few who sit around to listen while the Q101 djs share the best of the last 20 years. IPods and Grooveshark just can’t replace a whole community, listening to music together. I heard almost all my favorite songs first on Q101. I don’t know what I’ll tune to the next time I turn on the radio. I guess it’s time to do some searching.
So, I’ve finally finished Dark Moon. Again. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of me and this book, I’ll share. It started over a game when I was nine and evolved into a story idea too irresistable to ignore. I spent several years writing the first draft (if only I could find that original looseleaf!) that I finished when I was twelve. I still look back on that first effort, half plagiarized in the innocent and confused way of children, and cringe. Full of uninspired names, vomit-worthy plot “twists”, and every cliche I could pack into 58 pages, it was the masterpiece of someone delusional. But it was my first long work, and though I may cringe, I still feel a little pride to know that I wrote something then that has evolved into what I now call my first novel. From that first version from 2002 came the much more reasoned effort that was finished in 2004. Since then, seven more versions of the book have cluttered up my hard drive. The first was meant to be the last, the second a simple edit, the third a list of very important revisions, and then the game was on. Any writer plagued by perfectionism knows the peculiarly feverish joy of stamping out extra adverbs, cutting and pasting paragraphs, changing names ten times and then changing them back. Every time the nagging thought that “This isn’t good enough” would strike, up would be a new version. My friends and family would groan, but I would tell them only, “I had to. It was necessary.”
So you will forgive them their assured skepticism now, when I tell you that version 7–if I can curb my enthusiasm for reworking, the last version until it crosses the eyes of an editor–is complete. Oh, the random edit here and there may find its way onto the page, but I here vow not to open Darkmoon v8.
Unless it really, really needs it.
In the spirit of a happy conclusion, I give you an excerpt from what everyone I know (I’m sure) can only hope will be the final revision. Enjoy. Next stop: actually finishing those short stories…and finding a good literary magazine that accepts pieces with 8000+ words. Eep.
P.S. I also vow never to write a blog entry at 3:50 am again. Though =/= Thought. Excepts =/= Accepts. 3:50 am =/= the proper time for blog writing. Oh dear.
With exaggerated niceness, Lena drawled, “Oh yes, great Trent, please forgive my—what is that!” Her eyes popped. Behind Trent, standing stiffly next to her desk, was the man. The same stark coloring, the same electric eyes. With a cry, Lena clutched her hands to her head. A pang shot through it like someone had cracked a hammer between her eyes.
“What? Lena, what’s wrong?”
“There, behind you, idiot!”
Trent seemed to look directly at the man, but when he turned back around he was chewing his lip. “Lena,” he said lowly, “there’s nothing there. Is this what happened at school?”
“You kidding? There’s a—” She nearly choked. In the space of one blink, the man had vanished. The intense pounding in her head had dulled to a low throb. She breathed raggedly.
“Lena, once is an accident. Twice is something serious. Maybe we should call the doctor.”
“Says the boy who almost got himself killed ‘cause he didn’t tell anyone he was hurt ‘til his appendix almost blew up.”
“Are you taking something?”
“Just tired,” she insisted. The last thing she needed was her parents thinking she was crazy.
Eyebrows knit, voice low, she growled, “You so much as hint to mom and dad and you’re dead.”
Trent stretched out across her bed and threw his head back with a loud scoff. “God, I’m not going to tell them. But you need to take it easy.” The scowl broke and he laughed quietly. “Yeah, little sis, you could definitely beat me up. Look at those muscles.” He poked a finger into one of her arms.
She scowled. “You’re such a loser. I don’t need muscles to punch you in the nose.”
“Yeah, yeah, just try.”
That dissolved into a very one-sided fight starting with Lena throwing a halfhearted punch at Trent’s shoulder and ending with Trent putting her into a headlock until she sighingly proclaimed that he was the coolest and most accomplished of the Angeleses. Still, when he left her room, Trent told her pointedly that if she started seeing invisible things again he was bringing her to the doctor, in a straightjacket if necessary. Lena grimaced, knowing that even though Trent would keep their talk to himself, he would not forget it. When she went to sleep that night her head still pulsed like a whole baseball team had used it for batting practice and for the first time in years, she pulled out her old night light and plugged it in, just in case she awoke in the night to a pair of soulless violet eyes.
Is there any excuse for the hiatus that has separated my last, casual attempt at a poem from now? If there is I will strive to make it, and for the drabness of the title, but I promise you no miracles. The first few months of disappearance may be accounted for by my adventures abroad, which took up the whole of fall semester and occupied my time, if not with writing here, then writing in my chronicles of my Roman days. And since then? Well, suffice to say the muse is a greedy little tart. If the current work doesn’t feed her passion, she immediately drops off. Not to say that I have not written. I’m well through what seems to be the seventh version of the third version of Dark Moon, and ironing out those difficulties which for my pride’s sake I can’t publish for free here. Then there have been my stories for Introduction to Fiction Writing, which may make an excerpted appearance here if I dare to show them. And grad school? Well, that beast and all it requires has been devouring my time all summer, with little more to show for it than a One Note labyrinth of resources and the probable beginnings of an ulcer.
So there are my excuses, if any can be made. But I care too much to abandon this, so I’ll start up again, in perhaps less ambitious fashion. No need for a daily rambling, when my Rome blog is still awaiting its conclusion and three weeks will have me slumped over a desk performing statistical analyses. So what has changed in nearly a year? By my little list of facts, not much. I’m still crossing my fingers for a Sox playoff run. I still haven’t finished The Idiot, though I’ve chowed through at least a dozen books, not counting those for class, since I started it. I’m still listening to roughly the same music, I’m still tired and cranky, and ironically enough, or is that coincidentally, I’m still enjoying the sound of the rain.
So there is my re-introduction. Good to meet you again too. Now that we know each other, let us never speak of this absence again.
What happens when you spend the better part of your day writing a paper on Alfred Lord Tennyson? You procrastinate by writing Tennyson-inspired poems, that’s what. Yet again, this is only a first draft. It was a delightful procrastination tool, and I thought I’d share it here. As with the others, newer versions will follow as I edit them. Prepare yourselves for more of these. We’re not out of the frying pan yet.
Come sweetly, soft, and do tread lightly, dear.
Cruel thorns will tear your brow, your feet, your hair,
Sly rocks your ankles twist; no longer near
The sun, but frozen brambles, trees stripped bare,
Mud-choked the stream where even serpents fear
To sift. Not e’en the frown of winter wear
The mountains’ mouths, but fleshless faces’ leer
O’er changeless plains, shaved of the seasons’ hair.
So, taking this Brit Lit class has really benefitted my poetry, even though my fiction projects are still languishing in the face of travel, pasta, and RPG. This poem was inspired by Tennyson’s fear of death in his “In Memoriam A.H.H.” Like the last one, it is not completed but is a work in progress that I thought I’d share. The final version will make it’s way here eventually, I daresay.