An Interview with Jade Song

In an interview with Write or Die, you mentioned that you consider yourself an artist over a writer. How do you think the role of an artist differs from the role of a writer?

To me, there’s really no difference between being an artist and being a writer. My writing is part of my art. Writing is just one part of the art I make and love, so therefore I think of myself as an artist. My favorite art of any kind understands and celebrates the lineage and inspirations it comes from, so whatever I craft, whether it be writing or not, I always seek this approach.

Ren’s coming of age in your debut novel Chlorine is so heartbreaking and raw, yet oddly comforting. There aren’t many stories that describe the violence of coming of age as a queer girl of color in the US this honestly. How important was it for you to center Ren’s identity as a cultural “other” in your exploration of the pain of girlhood?

I don’t view Ren, or queer girls of color in general, as a cultural “other”—if anything, I view her, and me, and us, as the center, which includes all the complexities of who she is and who we are. If anyone wants to view her as an “other,” that’s their own conundrum to work through. I wrote this exploration centering her and her experience.

You’ve mentioned that you’re fascinated with imagery of “weird, queer transcendence,” and that this played a role in writing Chlorine. How would you compare Ren’s transcendence to Cathy’s lingering longing for Ren evident in her letters? Do you think Cathy is unable to transcend, either similarly or unlike Ren?

To me, Cathy transcends in her own way: she’s in love with someone else. To be in love is to be terrified; to be in love is to choose the terror despite; to be in love is therefore to transcend. Yet being in love with another is a common form of transcendence in the way Ren’s viscerally weird and strange transcendence is not. So, comparatively, Cathy’s arc pales.

There are at least two distinct forms of cell death: pain-free programmed cell death (apoptosis) and inflammatory unplanned cell death (necrosis). Menstruation is necrosis meaning anyone who has a uterus literally goes through a process of death and rebirth every month. Unfortunately, Ren still struggles with painful periods, even at her most dedicated to competitive swimming. Can you tell us a little more about how you sought to link the violence of menstruation with Ren’s bloody transformation?

Thank you for that interesting fact. Cell Death would be a great band name! I think there was no way for me to write a coming-of-age girlhood-driven story involving body horror without including menstruation. To me, it’s biologically violent, gushing out blood and stomach pain like it’s no big deal, and, as you said, it’s a monthly bloody transformation, so when writing fictional bloody transformations, I just can’t leave it out.

You’re also a fantastic short story author. In Bloody Angle,” the narrator explains their vengeful cannibalism by citing Newton’s third law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Racism plays a crucial role in “Bloody Angle” and Chlorine. When expressing your characters’ anger towards prejudice, did you ever feel pressured to justify their actions to people who wouldn’t understand?

Thank you! I never really feel pressured to justify characters’ actions to people who wouldn’t understand because I’m never really thinking about people who refuse to understand. When I write, I’m thinking about me and my friends and my community and my family and everyone/everything else I care about.

Yes, there was some need to justify the reactive acts of violence—the murders in “Bloody Angle” and the body horror in Chlorine—but the justification is more so to explain the character motivations and plot. After all, the narrator in Bloody Angle says, “If you are struggling to understand… my story is not for you.”

Image credit: Jade Song

You’ve expressed how Chlorine came from a place of cathartic anger, while your short story collection and novel in-progress come from a place of love and understanding. How did you allow yourself space to safely express your anger without letting it consume you?

Art has always been the safest channel for my emotions. The making, the gazing, the understanding—it’s incredibly life-affirming and lifesaving. It’s because of art that my meanest inclinations and worst rages do not consume me, so just by allowing myself to listen to the art I then become free.

You have a beautifully curated Instagram account, @chlorinenovel, to share updates and related artistic influences you enjoy. What forthcoming books, movies, music, or other forms of media you are looking forward to consuming?

I can’t wait for the new Jackie Wang book, Alien Daughters Walk Into the Sun, to arrive in the mail. In 2024, I’m excited to read the new Akwaeke Emezi novel, Little Rot, and the new Hanif Abdurraqib book. I’ll be seated at every new Hansol Jung play in theatres, and I’ll be the first in line at the cinema when Julia Ducournau’s next film with A24 is out.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice about the publishing industry or process, what would it be?

You can say no.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Writing and being a writer are two different things. One is to focus on the work, and one is to focus on the community, the success, the end product. Neither are wrong, and both feed into each other, but I do think deciding which path is more important to you will make everything else come easier.

Choose Your Own Adventure, Hero!

Take your life and choices into your own hands, reader, as you embark on a Hero’s Journey with us

In our previous installment of this blog series, we explained what the Hero’s Journey is, and why it’s such a great storytelling template to build from—particularly when it comes to character arcs. In this blog, let’s take a closer look at the Hero’s Journey as you, the reader, become Hero, the protagonist of your own story. 

Who are you? You’re a protagonist named Hero, and you’re just a regular person with a Job living in a City, who does regular things. That is, of course, until one day when everything changes—and you get to decide how and why. Take your fate into your own hands as you complete a Hero’s Journey from beginning to end!

As you read through this blog, select whichever choice you like the best (A, B, or C). You don’t have to stick with one letter throughout the blog; you can choose any option you like at any time. At the end of the blog, review your choices to determine what kind of Hero’s Journey you took.

The Call to Adventure

One ordinary day, you’re brushing your teeth when you get a sudden chill down your spine. You can’t explain it, but you know that everything is about to change. How and why, you don’t know. As you watch toothpaste swirl down the drain, like it does every day, you wonder why you feel that way. Nothing in particular comes to mind, so you shrug and move on about your day. 

You proceed throughout the day as normal: putting on a suitable outfit for the chilly but clear weather, going for a walk through the City streets, drinking cold brew with oat milk for breakfast, and working on your computer for a while. But then, around noon, something happens. Something happens that never happens, at least not to you. What is it? 

A) You fall asleep at your desk and have a strange prophetic dream in which an ethereal voice tells you to find and take a secret passageway in the City. In your dream, the voice guides you on the path to finding it and tells you that evil lurks at the end of the passageway and you must defeat it. 

B) Your email dings with a new message. When you check it, there’s no sender—and the message gives you directions to find a secret passageway in the City. The email warns you that if you don’t take the passageway, you will die. 

C) There’s a knock on the door. When you open it, a friend you haven’t seen in years is waiting on the other side with a grim expression. They tell you that they need your help saving the world from disaster and urge you to come with them to a secret passageway in the City. 

No matter which Call you choose to answer, ultimately you… 

Refusal of the Call

Refuse to find the secret passageway. You’re very content with your current life and have work meetings to attend later in the afternoon anyways. Evil, death, disaster? Sounds fake to you. Besides, you already went on a walk today. Why would you go on another one? You shrug off the Call and go about your regular life. If you were to dig deeper, you know that the reason you want to stick to regular life is…

A) You’re worried about getting fired from your job if you step away from your desk. You need this job because you have a lot of debt to pay off. 

B) You’re suspicious of scams and this definitely feels like one. You got scammed out of a lot of money earlier this year and you aren’t going to entertain anything like that again. 

C) You seriously doubt the existence of a secret passageway in the City. And even if one existed, where would it go? Probably somewhere dangerous, which you definitely don’t want. 

Nonetheless, you can’t forget the message you’ve gotten. What if there is a secret passageway? What if you die or the world ends because you don’t do this? Curiosity may have killed the cat, but didn’t satisfaction bring it back? You sit back in your desk chair and wonder if you’ve given up on a big opportunity to bring some excitement into your otherwise very boring and stagnant life. 

Meeting the Mentor

With doubt lingering in the back of your mind, you decide to get some advice. How do you go about doing this? 

A) You turn to tarot cards. You’ve often used these to help guide your choices in regular life, so why not now? When you give yourself the reading, turning each card over, there’s a clear message that sends a thrill down your spine. 

B) You call your older sister. She’s always been there to give you advice and talk you out of making stupid decisions. This time, though, her advice is unexpected. 

C) You decide to get some fresh air and walk to the nearby park. There, you sit on a bench. Soon, a man joins you there, sitting down next to you. He looks old and wise. You strike up a conversation which ultimately leads him to advising you… 

In the end, the message is clear: you should definitely go find this secret passageway. If you don’t, you’ll be curious about it forever and you wouldn’t want that, now would you? Also, according to the message, dire circumstances will take place if you don’t. So there’s also that.

Crossing the Threshold 

Filled with a new sense of determination, you decide to find this secret passageway. Just in case, you pack up a backpack with some snacks, a water bottle, and an extra sweatshirt. You put on your best walking shoes and head out the door, making sure to lock it behind you. Then, you head out into the City, trying to remember the directions you received. As you reach the place where the secret passageway should be, you see: 

A) A strange ripple in the stone wall between two dumpsters. As you get closer to it, ignoring the stench of garbage, you put your hand out and it goes right through the wall. Suddenly, another hand grasps onto yours and yanks you right through!

B) A small door camouflaged into the wall by a mural. When you press your hand against it, it creaks open and you see a dark, winding hallway beyond. A head pops from around the corner, startling you. The person grins. 

C) An open sewer entrance in the ground. You wrinkle your nose; there’s no way you’re going down there. But then it begins to glow and you realize it doesn’t actually stink—perhaps it’s not a sewer after all? Then someone pushes you into it and you fall down, screaming. 

On the other side of the threshold, you meet someone else from this strange new world. Will this person be a friend or foe?

Tests, Allies, and Enemies 

Your first challenge reveals itself: whether or not to trust this new figure in your life. After all, they are the reason you find yourself in this situation. You face each other. An unknown emotion flickers over their face as they introduce themselves. As it turns out: 

A) This person is your Ally. They are here to aid you on your journey. Their first step in doing so is taking your hand and guiding you through the darkness. 

B) This person is your Mentor. The magical voice from your dream has come to life, your older sister has joined you on the journey, or the old man from before has now appeared in front of you to aid you through your first obstacle. 

C) This person is a Trickster. First, they bargain with you, causing you to give up your snacks to them. Then, they help you through the first obstacle. 

Whoever they are, you have help on the first part of your journey—which is going to be important for overcoming your first obstacle. As you and your new companion make your way through the passage, you encounter: 

A) A troll blocking the way forward. The troll demands a toll for continuing forward. But you didn’t bring any money with you! Thinking quickly, you and your companion trick the troll into believing that your extra sweatshirt is a magical object that grants the wearer invisibility. The troll takes the sweatshirt as the toll but then threatens to kill both of you anyway! However, you ask the troll how he can do that when he hasn’t even tested his hard-earned prize. How does he know that you’ve been truthful? The troll becomes agitated and squeezes into the sweatshirt, slightly ripping its seams. You wince. That sweatshirt actually belongs to your sister. The troll looks at you and your companion triumphantly as you both pretend to be unable to see him. He swings his large club at you; you stumble aside, making it look like an accident. The troll trips over his own feet, smashing his head on the ground. As quickly as possible, you grab his club and whack him over the head with it. You and your companion move on safely. 

B) A huge metal gate that has been shut for one thousand years. Your companion tells you no one has been able to open it, but if you don’t both of you won’t be able to leave this place and you’ll die here like the others. Skeletons piled against the walls make you gulp in fear. But you’re Hero so you decide you absolutely won’t die here. You then realize that a riddle is written on the lock holding the gates shut. It just so happens you know the answer to this riddle because of your varied interests: A human, time, courtship, and I haven’t the slightest idea! To the shock of your companion, the gates swing open. 

C) A large, rushing river separates you from the next part of your journey. Your companion worries that you’ll both be swept away if you try to swim across it. Then you spy a boat sitting on the opposite shore. You find a fishing line and use it to reel the boat in. Then, you and your companion get into the boat and perilously travel through the water to the other side. 

After overcoming this first challenge, you meet a new companion. Whether you rescue them from the troll, the gate, or the river, they immediately pledge their loyalty to you and the three of you depart on the next part of your journey. But first, there’s something that’s been bothering you… 

Approach to the Inmost Cave

You ask your companions what this is really all about. Why have you been sent on this journey when you’re just an ordinary person, albeit one named Hero? They look at each other with apprehension, wondering if what they tell you will send you running back the way you came. Then, your first companion reveals that:

A) An Evil Wizard is using his powers to suck the City of its power. This passageway leads to his secret lair. Long ago, a Good Witch prophesied that only a Hero could defeat him and so you received the Call.

B) It turns out that your Boss from your everyday Job is actually a God who has decided that this City and everyone in it must be destroyed. This passageway is a bridge between the mortal and immortal realms. Only a Hero can enter it and survive, so you have been tasked with defeating her. 

C) An Ancient Magical Creature has discovered that the City’s lifesource can bring it back to its original power and form, so it is slowly draining energy from everyone and everything. This passageway leads to where the lifesource is, and only a Hero can find it. 

Whatever the main conflict is, you as the Hero must try to defeat it. With new resolve, you approach the place where you will face the ultimate ordeal and decide to: 

A) Defeat it using stealth. You know you have a way of sneaking about and you can’t see yourself facing this task head-on. You’ll sneak in and defeat the evil before anyone even knows you’ve been there. 

B) Defeat it using diplomacy. You know that you’re amazing at speaking. You feel you can convince anyone of anything, and you can use this to amend any situation, even the crazy one you’re currently in. 

C) Defeat it by facing it directly. In life, you’ve always found that it’s best to face problems head on. You’ll cut the head right off this evil!

Depending on the path you have chosen, your newest companion equips you with the means to complete it: 

  • If you chose path A from the options above, you receive a cloak of camouflage
  • If you chose path B from the options above, you receive a shield of stone
  • If you chose path C from the options above, you receive a sword of slaughter

The Ordeal

You brace your shoulders and clench your sweaty palms as you turn to face the main ordeal. There’s no turning back now, even if you sort of wish you could. But no, you shake your head, you couldn’t do that after already going through what you’ve gone through! You’re ready to confront your enemy. You take up your new magical item and jump into action. After a (sneaky, compelling, brutal) battle, the result is: 

A) You defeat them successfully with the help of your companions and supplies. 

B) You fail to defeat them, losing one of your companions after the other betrays both of you. Your method of confrontation turns out to be the wrong one and you are left to despair. 

C) You and the great evil fall deeply in love and you decide to join them in their evil doing. Your companions are left flabbergasted and betrayed. 

Reward

You’ve made your choice. Whether you succeeded, failed, or switched sides, now that you have faced the ordeal it’s time to reap the rewards. In this case, the reward is: 

A) Newfound friends and allies and the knowledge that you have saved the City—plus a sense of confidence and greater maturity in yourself. If you can do this, you can do anything! Including deep-cleaning your apartment. 

B) MONEY. Enough to pay off your debts and invest in your future. You feel a sense of excitement for life again and your anxiety decreases. You could even go out for a nice dinner if you want! 

C) Power and skill. You are in control of yourself like you never have been before, plus you have a power you didn’t know about. You can abandon your old life and embark on a new one—this time as the master of it.

The Road Back 

Now that you’ve overcome the main ordeal, no matter the outcome, it’s time to head home—even if it’s because you’re planning to destroy it. What obstacles do you face on the way? 

A) The passageway has closed itself off and you’re trapped in this new world with no way to get out.

B) You take the same way back that you came, but now the passageway seems winding and endless. You can’t find your way back to the same entrance you came through.

C) The new world you’ve entered begins to shake and smoke. It’s destroying itself and taking you with it! 

Before you can get back to the other world—whether to return to your old life, try to forget what happened in this place, or to destroy it with your new love—you first have to face this new obstacle. This time, how do you overcome the challenge? 

A) Using the power of friendship (along with the magical item you gained), you are able to open a new passageway back to your world. 

B) Using the knowledge you’ve gained in this new world, you realize the situation you’re facing is just an illusion and all you need to do is realize that it’s not actually happening. 

C) You don’t… this time, you die!

Resurrection

Whether you live or die, you still need to face a final test. What is this test? 

A) In order to leave, you must give up everything you’ve gained along the way—including your memories of your entire journey. With a heavy heart, you do this. 

B) In order to leave, you must master a whole new power, which takes over two weeks! But you do it and are able to escape into your previous world. 

C) In order to leave, you have to come back from the dead. Heavy ask on that one! Nonetheless, it works, somehow, and you find yourself back in your living, breathing body.

Note: You can choose this option even if you didn’t choose option C before. It just means you died after choosing option A or B previously.  

Once you face the final test, you find yourself spat back out into your previous world, a changed person. Even if you don’t remember anything that’s happened. 

Return with the Elixir

You take the long walk through the City, breathing in the fresh (and somewhat stinky) air. You unlock your apartment door and are greeted with your familiar hallway. Pictures of friends and family hang on the walls. Once there, you find that: 

A) You feel a poignant sense of triumph. You overcame so much to be here and have truly grown as a person. You’re ready to tackle real life again with a newfound sense of confidence and power!

B) You feel a deep sense of loss. Loss of memories, loss of companions, loss of innocence—whatever it is, you’re a changed person and your grief is palpable. 

C) I don’t know, reader, what do you feel after everything you’ve been through and all the choices you’ve made?

Conclusion

However you chose to end your story, you can see how the Hero’s Journey is a great template for creating compelling stories and characters. Go back and reread the one you just created. Is there anything you would change? I encourage you to take the journey over and over again, exploring different paths and outcomes as you do. Add your own twists, turns, challenges, and characters along the way just to see all the different places you can take your story. 

Keep an eye out for the next installments in this blog series as you write, using the information to craft your perfect story. Once you’re done, consider submitting your work to F(r)iction!

An Interview with Margot Douaihy

Your latest novel, Scorched Grace, is a crime fiction novel. What is it that draws you to this genre?

Hardboiled literature is obsessed with shadows, mirrors, and vice. Solving riddles and restoring order. Even for a brief moment, even for a client who doesn’t pay. 

The hardboiled story begins with the acknowledgment that the world is broken, but it’s still worth the fight. Indeed, life is painful but can still be miraculous and achingly beautiful.

The hardboiled subgenre includes the lineage of wisecracking, hard-living, hard-drinking “lone wolf” PIs on the mean streets, pounding the pavement for cases. These sleuths are insider-outsiders, loners, rebels who test their mettle at high heats.

Hardboiled, like other subgenres, remixes elements from other categories, but tone, voice, and mood are key. Hardboiled stories are often gritty, unsentimental, or seductively subtextual, voice-driven narrative experiences. The sleuth is a piece of work—never afraid to throw a punch. But showing raw vulnerability is terrifying. 

For all of these reasons and more, this subgenre has won my heart.

Landmark hardboiled authors include Black Mask Magazine writers. Think Raymond Chandler (elegiac, poetic), Dashiell Hammett (also a Pinkerton private eye), and Mickey Spillane. Then, the neo-hardboiled writers such as Sue Grafton, Walter Mosley, and Sara Paretsky, to name a few. 

Styles and themes vary. Canonical PIs from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s have tons of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia problems. Sometimes it’s hard to stomach. And yet, many foundational hard boilers also probed PTSD and post-war specters. In the lineage, writers like Katherine V. Forrest and Cheryl A. Head offer incisive critiques and stalwart LGBTQ characters. Most private eye characters work alone, but Spade paired with Archer. More codes than rules.

Some screen riffs on hardboiled include Jessica Jones and Veronica Mars. (There are so, so many.) The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon are classics. I am excited about decolonized, queer, trans, and nonbinary POVs in hardboiled lit. I am happy to see Scorched Grace situated in this wild legacy. 

Speaking of inspiration, what gave you the idea to write Scorched Grace about “a chain-smoking, heavily tattooed, queer nun”? That’s quite the character! Were you inspired by someone specific? Did the idea just come to you?

I wanted to recast the hardboiled sleuth as a tatt’d up queer nun named Sister Holiday, a lone wolf by her own design. Her subversion is a reclamation of the hardboiled sleuth trope and my investment in queer futurity. Scorched Grace embodies dichotomies. dialectics, and the thrall of damage, ghosts, and queer resilience.

Image Credit: Margot Douaihy

Continuing on the topic, you pride yourself as a queer artist who writes queer books that “shake the heteronormative.” There are a lot of us out there who need books like these. Were there any challenges in your publication journey, either in the beginning or even now, that you’ve faced with these queer stories? 

When it comes to popular fiction, there are a bevy of market realities to consider. The investment in a new title (and a new author) is significant, and many publishers want to feel confident in their investment, and indeed, the return on investment. There is a balance between writing books for broad trade audiences—books that innovate, experiment, and test the elasticity of genre—while still delivering the experiences that genre readers crave. In other words, how do you write a truly inspired piece of art, a wildly weird book that takes a big creative swing, while ensuring it will sell well? For all these reasons (and so many more), I am fortunate to be published by the brilliant Gillian Flynn, who leads the imprint Gillian Flynn Books with Zando. Their mission is to publish books that are propulsive, culturally incisive, and conversation starting. It’s been a dream to land my weird series with this remarkable team. Gillian herself is a genius, so I’m very lucky to have her blessing and encouragement. It’s heartening to witness the gradual shift in the industry, but there’s always work to be done to ensure that diverse voices are not just heard but celebrated in the pop fic world.

As someone who also teaches, what would you say are some important lessons from a professor’s POV when it comes to writing?

The writing workshop is the art of self inquiry and an act of shared imagination. To intone Susan Sontag, writing is not necessarily about the world; it is its own world. Art is a world unto itself. This is a tenet that I hold dear to my heart. When I teach, I pose questions that I ask of my own art and process. Sharing ideas and experiences, informed by lived experiences, is one of the greatest gifts of being a writing teacher and working in the arts. I learn from my students every single day.  

Your artist statement says: “…working across genres, I allow the identity of the project to locate its final form.” What does that kind of process look like for you?

I usually start a piece with a feeling. In the case of Scorched Grace, that feeling was heat. Total incineration. Raging fire. The passion of burning and burning of passion. I wanted to write a novel about the ways that fire can live inside the intellect as well as in the viscera—the corporeal and the cerebral in tandem. The liturgical layer and epistemologies complicate the mystery. With other pieces of art, the feeling may begin as a poem, but since form and content are crucially linked, I could start a draft with economy and concision, but the idea itself explodes out, demanding and insisting on a much longer form. Another example of this would be my poem, “The Book of Lace” in my collection Scranton Lace (Clemson University Press). It started as a meditation on the elegant danger of a needle, and the sculpture of a needle as utility, as well as aesthetic beauty of what the needle creates. Critical theory by Barthes and Bachelard about imagery and post-structural notions of text (meaning “to weave”) informed this work. The draft started as a tiny series of couplets, needle fine. Then the draft took on more POVs and it needed a richer home. The final draft is an eight-page poem that serves as a re-imagined origin story of lace. The book itself is an extended metaphor, yoking the derelict space of an abandoned lace factory to internalized homophobia. Two elaborate structures that once served a purpose but are no longer needed. And they are also hard to raze or dismantle completely. 

Are there specific challenges you’ve faced writing crime fiction (specifically lesbian crime fiction) that may not be present in other genres you partake in?

I am interested in offering alternative narratives of power, agency, the illusion of good vs bad, and “justice.” The idea of justice is not axiomatic nor is it fixed. Justice looks very different depending on context and life experience. When I first started writing crime fiction, I encountered more “copaganda” types of storyline portrayals that romanticize and/or idealize law enforcement characters and PIs, and therefore perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Media and pop fiction can shape and influence societal perceptions, so this topic is extremely important to me. I am part of a movement to enrich and evolve our beloved genre of crime fic by incorporating intersectional perspectives, with a particular emphasis on featuring main characters from queer, BIPOC, and neurodiverse backgrounds. 

As a professor do you often, if ever, find that working with students and their creative pieces and processes help you with your own? Has your process changed? If so, how?

Absolutely. Engaging with students and their creative journeys is a deeply enriching experience. Observing new perspectives and idiosyncratic approaches often offers fresh insights that let me reimagine craft and process. Teaching art and making art is a fundamentally reciprocal relationship. Pedagogy and individual creativity inform each other. Art in any form is a living, breathing thing. No one owns it. No one should be a gatekeeper. Education outfits writers with the support, rigorous contexts, craft consciousness, and skillful means to create compelling work, each person holds the magic inside.

You have another book coming out next year, Blessed Water. How do you balance life—teaching and everything that comes with that, hobbies, etc.—with writing your books?

A very detailed and disciplined daily list. Lists of lists. I try to keep each weekend free to play. To bike. To hike. To spend time with my family and cats. For about fifteen years, I worked for seven days a week. It began to erode my sense of self. We must stay attuned to our creative selves and inner child. 

Are there any books coming out in 2024 that you’re really looking forward to, and why?

Humble nod to my own book, Blessed Water, which is a lyrical ripper that takes place over the course of three hellish days: Good Friday, Saturday, and Easter Sunday. It starts with Sister Holiday pulling the body of a dead priest out of the flooded river and takes off from there. I wanted to write a mystery that was both fast-paced and rich. Most chapters are about three pages. This is a mystery that readers can devour in real time during a weekend or in one sitting. Blessed Water is a queering of the traditional three-act structure. I’m also so excited about Ocean’s Godori by Elaine U. Cho. Becky Chambers meets Firefly in this big-hearted Korean space opera debut about a disgraced space pilot struggling to find her place while fighting to protect the people she loves. 

Are there any books about writing that you recommend and swear by?

Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, and Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Allison.  

If you could give one, general piece of advice to the aspiring authors out there, something that they should follow to the ends of the earth, what would it be?

Ack, just one! Writing is a process. Writing is rewriting. Reading is a form of writing. Reading (including via ears and audiobooks) enriches our storytelling abilities. Never ever ever give up. There is only ONE you in this world and your story deserves to be told. 

Flight

Just beyond the safety of our village, there was a dense thicket of trees and a mountain so tall they said no one had seen the top of it. Of course, no one had really tried. Only a few kids dared to come close to the forest’s edge. Most gave up, but I’d been coming here for years.

My last day was like any other. I dipped underneath an archway of branches that led to a winding path. Cocoa chirped on my shoulder when his head got a little too close to a thorny limb.

“You know you could just fly over the trees,” I said, but I didn’t actually mind.

He hopped back and forth as I walked, singing to himself. The only other noise was the rustle of leaves swept up by the breeze. No other birds sung with Cocoa, and no critters scurried by. There weren’t even buzzing bugs whizzing by my ear. Only the oaks hummed. I felt the quiet that today, as always, but I didn’t hesitate on my way forward.

Cocoa sung and the leaves shuttered until I came to our spot, a pond lit up by golden rays of sunlight. Beneath the water’s shimmering surface, moss grew in miniature mountains and valleys. They created a lush village for the fish below. It was so clear I could see how each school and family moved in and away from each other. But there was one dark spot some yards away from its edge. There, the water turned like a lazy whirlpool, circling something unseen.

“I asked the Seer if she’d ever heard of a pond like this,” I said to Cocoa. With one flap of his wings, he landed beside me. He didn’t move as I took off my shoes and socks.

“She said she heard of a pond with a creature that would give you whatever you wished for,” I stepped one foot into the cool water, wincing as I broke its apparent streak of purity.

“For a price,” I remembered before delving into the deep.

The pond released bubbles all around me as I swam, fizzling like sparkling wine. It was only still by the dark figure who sat comfortably beside a pack of fluttering fish. She smiled when I came to her and, while I couldn’t open my lips, she heard me speak.

“What do you wish for?” she asked

Freedom.

“It will cost you.”

I floated up to the edge of a lovely pond, feeling light despite the way the water tugged on my clothes. A little sparrow the color of oak and almond watched me swim and sang a song that sounded almost familiar. For some reason I couldn’t know, I felt a great untamable grief.