I first saw Joselynn Watts (they/them) perform in the back of a record store in the small town we both live. They read two poems. No one line from them stuck in my head, but their cadences, and Josie’s stern, powerful performance, hooked me.
They are on the verge of publishing their debut collection of poetry and art, called The World We Live In. On the cover, a figure in a white dress clutches a partially obscured globe. While this evokes the Atlas myth, this comparison does not hold true: the hero is smiling, embracing the globe in love, not ardor.
Josie and I sat down to talk about their poetry. They told me they began writing as a child.
“I used stories as an escape. I think I started writing stories when I was five. I would write them to my mom, and my grandma. I would staple pages of printer paper together and give them little books.”
They said that the contents of these were usually “something fantastical.”
Josie’s grandmother had a massive influence on them. They told me that “She is the woman that raised me. My mom was a single parent and wasn't home very often, so it was my grandma I turned to. She writes poetry, so when she realized that’s something I was trying to make a career out of, she got really excited. She’s one of my biggest supporters.”
My favorite quality of Josie’s poetry is a tender acknowledgment of yearning, of want, and the separation that defines want. This, in Josie’s poems, is very physical. In Insides, they describe, in turn, wanting their body to be obliterated, wanting their body to become the ocean. In Leave Me Alone, some lover wants their body, and they don't want that lover’s body, just their affection. It is all very heartbreaking. I think this is exemplified by The Beach Sonnet, which goes like this:
THE BEACH SONNET
In my mind, you are the Earth.
You are stable, kind and wise.
Those brown irises, so full of mirth.
Dark hair and eyes may be a guise
To the pure intelligence underneath.
In my mind, I am the sea
And our love becomes a beach
Where I hold you and you hold me
As I crash into your arms,
Much like water meeting land,
I notice that with all your charms
Your chest still holds the same warmth as sand.
In my mind, we’re here as long as possible.
Nothing ever feels quite as wonderful.
I love how this romantic scene is, we’re constantly reminded, just in the narrator’s mind. It’s sad. I love, too, how intimate this and other poems of theirs feel. It feels like the thoughts you have, whether peaceful bliss or dark curling doubt, when laying down with someone you love.
Josie says that small, intimate things inspire them.
“I’m most inspired by the mundane parts of life that I find really beautiful. Like, in my poem Mortal Temptation, its literally just about a girl I had a crush on. She used to smoke menthol cigarettes on her breaks during work. It’s such a mundane thing, but I really clinged to it, because the smell of menthol cigarettes represents her to me.”
Here is Mortal Temptations:
She would come back from break smelling like
And even with her warning, I would wrap my arms
around her and breathe her in.
I wished then that I could lick her precious wrist and
taste the smoke.
And even with her warning, I would fall deeper into
her little world.
Josie told me that the through line of their book is self discovery:
“I grew up really religious, so there’s a lot of exploration of spirituality and my own sexuality and coming to terms with who I am.”
Their religious background does play a heavy role in their poems. One of the ones I heard them read at the record store is called My Heavenly Father, and opens with the line: “The Christian God is Cruel.”
Nowadays, Josie tells me they are agnostic, and that in their day to day life, the influence of their religious background “leans more towards how I go about treating people. I love people, so I’m always trying to be charitable and listen.” Though they say this comes from NOT wanting to emulate the morals of their old religion.
Queerness, too, consumes Josie’s poems (one poem is titled Speak To Me Sappho), and is integral to them as a person:
“This is gonna sound so funny, and a lot of people are gonna be like ‘oh, it’s just another blue-haired SJW kind of moment’, but it affects everything I do. Down to the clothes I wear. I want to partake in my own culture of queerness as often as possible.”
They say that, in fully expressing their queerness, they are “the happiest I’ve ever been. What’s hard is having to restrict myself.”
Wrapping up, Josie told me about a world they want to “run away to”.
“It’s a fantasyland. There are so many things that people see as black and white that are actually gray. In this fantasyland, you just understand that people are people, and we’re here to love people. It’s about the person we’re sitting next to, even if it’s a complete stranger.”
The way that Josie practices love in their personal life is very characteristic, and very beautiful. They try to remember things about people, and “love people for people.”
“For me, it’s the small things that show people you have them in mind. Even if you don’t see a person for weeks, if you make a recall back to what they were talking to you about previously, it just makes someone feel so validated."
Remembering the small things. Like the smell of menthols on someone’s wrist, and writing a poem about it. That’s wonderful. Also, when they’re anxious, they go pick up trash on the side of the road. That’s just cool.
Check out their Instagram (@the_.bored._one) for updates on their work. Be on the lookout for the book they are writing (they just finished the first chapter!) The World We Live In will be available online through Writer’s Republic very soon. Keep an eye out, and buy it!
David coppin lanegan
Davidis a musician, journalist, and writer living in rural Washington. You can find him on the corner shooting the breeze, getting home late, or happy in Frenchman’s Coulee
Zane McLaughlin looks like a cowhand. Their long bobbed hair hangs down around their face, blue jeans hang down around their brown boots.
They make beautiful music. They (McLaughlin uses they/them pronouns) released their first record, an acoustic EP titled Zane, two years ago. All instruments were recorded by McLaughlin on a four-track tape recorder. They describe Zane as “Very acoustic. Early Alex G, Elliot Smith-esque.”
These tunes are pretty and gentle. McLaughlin’s voice dances lightly through warm guitars and drums. The lyrics are plainly tender. I love this verse from Zane’s last song.
I know it's cold for a Florida night
but you have to go back
but don't worry
the power lines will keep you on track
The image of sending someone away from you, kindly, is wonderful. This verse exemplifies my favorite quality of Zane, which is its youthfulness. It feels proud to exist, and hard earned.
They smiled as they told me about playing music as a young child, and how they came to songwriting.
“I started playing drums when I was about two, and I did that for a long long time. I played in school bands and stuff.”
They grew tired of school band, they explained, and it’s limitations.
“So, I started learning guitar cause of Alex G and Duster. I remember, I made a Reddit post, asking ‘Easy Alex G songs to learn?’ and those were the first songs I learned on guitar in highschool.”
“I tried to start bands with my friends but it just never really worked so it was like ‘alright I have to do it now.’ ”
After Zane came Oldstar, the first, self-titled record under McLaughlin’s current moniker. They took the name from a song by Aussie slowcore band Bluetile Lounge.
Oldstar has a consistent, characteristic sound. Electric guitars, slow and steady drumming, gentle bass. McLaughlin’s voice softly strains above the mix. McLaughlin is ambivalent about its merits, though, and feels it betrays inexperience in their songwriting.
“I feel like the first record, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was new to singing. I purposely took my voice down in the mix.”
They told me they attribute the records quietly electric sound to their interest in slowcore bands.
“That record was me listening to a bunch of slowcore stuff and me trying to make something in that line. I learned from what Duster did, they had their vocals kind of hidden. I feel like the slowcore revival thing, it got really big really quick, and a lot of it was very derivative. Myself included.”
The second Oldstar record, On The Run, released this year. I love it so much. It is, I think, a maturation of McLaughlin’s writing. It has a big, new, country rock sound. McLaughlin told me how the record came to be:
“I wanted to make a more rocking record. A bigger record. More of a cohesive idea.”
They also spoke about the influence of country music on the record.
“These past two years I've gotten super into alt country and 90s punk country. Bands like Lucero and Uncle Tupelo. And then I got a second wind of Neil Young fandom; I loved him so much when I was a kid.”
And, the influence of their parents: “My parents complained too, they were like “We can’t hear your voice.” So I was like ‘Ok, I’ll sing a little louder.’ ”
I’m glad they’re louder, because lyrically, this record is genius. I love it.
On The Run opens with the title track.
I had a dream about us
You drove a Ford Ranger with hunting lights
We got pulled over by the cops
Tryna make it past
Those state lines
I love how clear this scene is. The narrator is a criminal. They’re driving, running away with someone. I’m hooked.
My favorite verse from the tune:
That night you had me waiting
For you to make your move
For you to give me your hand
But you take your time, you’re a patient man
As reeling, cascading guitars come in on the last line, the feeling of wondering what’s gonna happen, whether you’re gonna get together with someone, that yearning, is captured perfectly. Oh, it’s gorgeous.
McLaughlin describes the tune as a gay country song, another reason why I love it. The outlaw theme, the open queerness, and the bombastic music makes it feel splendidly dangerous.
My favorite song from On The Run is She Liked Horses. It’s very very tender, like a kiss on the forehead.
It opens like this:
She liked horses
And I thought that was enough
I guess that shows how dumb I was
She said of course it’s not your fault
I guess that shows how wrong she was
Kindness leaks from this song. It’s beautiful and makes me sad. My favorite line on the whole record is from this tune:
I tried not to force it
But it came back out
The record ends with Plate Numbers. Check out this verse:
Go ahead, take your foot off the gas, it’s time to relax
Take your time too, we’ve got a lot of it to pass
We’ll be riding horses, in case anyone asks
We’ll be riding horses, and we’ll ride em fast
Cause lord knows my Subaru won't take us far enough
I think it’s really beautiful that the record opens with someone and their lover driving a Ford, on the run from the cops, and ends with someone and their lover driving a Subaru, then getting out and riding horses.
Vehicles are important to McLaughlin, as they explained:
“Cars are a big part of my life. I do like cars a lot, but it’s also just cause I do a lot of driving. Where I live is super spread out. I have to drive forty five minutes to work. I have to drive 20 minutes to go see my parents. Driving has been a big part of my life for the past three years.”
They confirmed that they do “Have a subaru. And it’s not that nice of a Subaru.”
Oldstar has gained an online following since the release of their self-titled record. People cover McLaughlin’s songs on YouTube, hype them in their comments section, and buy their tapes from indie labels like Pleasure Tapes, Julia’s War, and Rope Bridge. McLaughlin told me what it’s like to have people express their love for their music:
“It's cool, but it's a little weird. I try not to get too heady about it, cause there's not that many people. But it's still, like, fun, and it makes me real happy that people like my music.”
Specifically, they were happy with the reaction to their sound change in On The Run.
“When I did On The Run, I was kinda scared that everyone would hate it. Especially in indie music, a lot of the time there's an aversion to things that are like country music, or southern rock.”
McLaughlin wrapped up our conversation laughing, recommending that folks read The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, a favorite writer of theirs and a fellow southerner. They also said:
“Listen to small artists. We’re out here. There’s a whole lot of em.”
They said there is a new Oldstar album in the works. Really, though, they want to become an even better songwriter.
“I want to be able to write a song that can make someone cry.”
Visit Oldstar’s BandCamp to buy their records and merch! Check their instagram @oldst4r for gigs, and see the links to their music on streaming here!
david coppin lanegan
Davidis a musician, journalist, and writer living in rural Washington. You can find him on the corner shooting the breeze, getting home late, or happy in Frenchman’s Coulee.
Published Fantasy Author Erin Forbes: On Writing Her YA Trilogy, Publishing Journey, and Character InspirationRead Now
Interview conducted by Cailey Tin
First and foremost, thank you, Erin, for taking the time to have this written interview with me. It’s an honor because your work has been a great contribution to the fantasy genre, and it’s also particularly inspiring to the younger fanbase who dream of becoming future writers. Without further ado, here are some burning questions prepared for you–particularly about your debut fantasy book series, Fire & Ice.
What aspect of your fantasy series, Fire & Ice, do you treasure the most? Were there any moments from the first book that you hold dear and wouldn’t miss a beat to bring up again in another book?
E: More than anything, I treasure my characters and their development throughout the series, as well as the overarching themes of sisterhood and feminine strength. I am so thrilled to bring this tale to a finale in The Ember Sword. At the same time, a part of my heart aches to know that this story I grew up with is finally at its end. I imagine I'll return to Aisling and the world I've created someday soon, in another book.
When you finished writing The Elementals, the first book in your fantasy series, what were your plans for the rest of the books, and how did those initial ideas go? Were you scared or excited at the thought of writing more?
E: When I finished my first book, The Elementals, I knew I wanted to share it with the world. Becoming an author was a long-held dream of mine. I daydreamed about holding my work in my hands and making a place for it on my bookshelf. Yet I never imagined my book would be read and cherished by so many bookworms across the globe. I feel very fortunate for this. After the first book was a success, I realized I needed to continue the series. I was so invested in the characters and their story, and so were my readers. I’m so grateful for the world I’ve built through each of the books in the Fire & Ice series, and I’m so excited to share more in the finale, The Ember Sword. While this may be the final chapter in Alice’s story, a part of my heart will always belong to Aisling and the characters within. I hope to open the story again one day, perhaps with the spotlight on another set of characters.
How does it feel to have written books in the Fire & Ice series at pivotal, constantly transforming stages in your life? Are there any particular changes you’d like to make now, and if you could somehow go back in time and alter something, would you?
E: At times, I’ve thought about what I might alter or add to the plot if I went back to my first book. And yet, I know now that I wouldn’t change a thing. Sixteen-year-old Erin wrote that story, and it encapsulates every bit of her voice and the way she imagined the tale of the Hanley twins. That’s a treasure to me.
And when I go back and read my original work now, I smile and think of the days I spent writing every word. I was the same age as my main character, Alice, when I began the Fire & Ice series. Readers surely witness the growth of my writing style and voice throughout each book in the series, and likewise, readers witness the growth of Alice as well. To me, there’s something very special about that.
Which of your book characters resonate the most with you, and was that similarity intentional?
E: I relate most to the four Elementals (Alice, Emery, Ariadne, and Juniper). I always say a piece of my heart formed their spirits and personalities. This happened naturally throughout the writing process.
As I went through different phases in my life, the Hanley sisters and their friends experienced similar moments throughout their character arcs. Their sisterhood and friendship is something every young woman can find in her life, and their stories are so akin to bits and pieces of my own. I cherish them, as if they were real friends of mine.
What’s your favorite thing to do after a long day of writing?
E: After a long writing session, I like to relax with my husband and watch a good film, or enjoy time in nature.
If you could meet any author you haven’t met yet, who would it be?
E: Tolkien, for sure. His mind for world-building inspires me so much. I remember attending an exhibition of his work and sketches several years ago, and it was fascinating. If we had lived in the same era, I would love to have a cup of tea with him. Also, Jane Austen. How I adore her work!
What part of fantasy makes it your favorite genre, and in the future, would you still consider writing in it?
E: When it comes to fantasy, there are no rules to what you can create. You can let your imagination be your guide. There is so much potential, and I think this is what makes fantasy my favorite genre. I also love historical fiction and poetry. I don’t care to limit myself when it comes to what genre I will continue to write in the future.
What do you do when you’re at the lowest point in your writing journey, or when you’re not motivated to write because of things like lack of time? (It feels like plenty of authors have a problem with finding the time to write, and it’s definitely understandable, too!)
E: These days, my writing schedule is less consistent, and I really have to take advantage of my spare time. To find motivation, I like to listen to the Spotify playlists I created for my series, and I also enjoy browsing the Pinterest boards I curate with images that take me back to Aisling, the realm within my series.
When all else fails, I’m never afraid to take a step back from my work and spend time with friends or enjoy time in nature. My greatest inspiration tends to arrive when I least expect it.
What’s your process for taking your love for nature, art, etcetera, and making them ideas for your stories?
E: I’m not sure if I have a particular process, per se. Bits and pieces of inspiration often come to me at random. Yet so much of my series is rooted in my culture and love of the natural world. I keep a few notes tabs on my phone, where I collect ideas and quotes that come to me when I am away from the writing desk. I refer back to these while I am writing or plotting my work, and I’ve found it to be so helpful!
What was the tedious process of publishing and marketing the series like for you? How did you go about with book covers, promotion, author events, etc?
E: Honestly, the publishing and marketing process is always so fun for me! I loved working one-on-one with my cover designer to make my vision for the books a reality. I love chatting with readers and interviewers about my characters. Author events are always a blast! It’s really humbling to meet readers who drove hours to have their books signed.
How does it feel to end a book series that you’ve worked so long with and to have the final installment on the way? Do you have any plans for future projects already?
E: I have a few other stories I am looking forward to writing after the Fire & Ice series is complete! I also have a fully illustrated children’s book on the way. I am hoping to publish A Crown of Curls this autumn or winter. Stay tuned!
That sounds so exciting! Lastly, if you could tell your younger teenage self any writing, practical, or publishing advice, what would it be?
E: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Reach out to other writers and authors, and ask how they got started. Learning from the experiences of others has been so beneficial for me as an author. It’s always great to receive advice from those who have gone before you! And most of all, believe in the beauty of your Gift. God gave you great dreams for a reason. Never be afraid to follow them!
Visit Erin online:
Buy “Fire & Ice” on Amazon
About Erin Forbes
Erin Forbes discovered her passion for literature at a very early age. Since the date of her first publication, her work has spread to readers across the globe, and her books have developed an international fanbase. She is known for her vivid descriptions and fantastical fiction. When she is not reading and writing, Erin enjoys art, nature, music, dance, and riding her horse. She lives on a small farm in the Hudson Valley of New York. Follow her on social media! @erinforbesauthor and @fireandicebookseries
Cailey Tin is a Philippine-based teen creative. A vivacious reader and spirited writer, she is a writing manager and spoken word co-host at Incandescent Review, a columnist for Paper Crane Journal, Spiritus Mundi, and Incognito Press, among others. When not editing poetry for the borderline or Sophon Lit, she’s (imagining) chipping away at pieces—some appearing or forthcoming in Eunoia Review, Ice Lolly Review, and Sage Cigarettes. Check out her Instagram @itscaileynotkylie.
Millie Florence Talks Being a Teenage Published Author, Navigating Negativity, and Middle Grade Book DealsRead Now
Interview conducted by Cailey Tin
Cailey: First of all, thank you, Millie, for taking the time to have this written interview with me. Having several projects that will be coming out soon must make you busy, and I’m so excited for their release! Without further ado, here are some burning author questions prepared for you.
You published your debut book, Honey Butter, at age thirteen. What was the process of writing and publishing it like for you? Were there any resources or help you got at the start?
I may not have finished Honey Butter without NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is every November. It’s the challenge to write the entire first draft of a novel in thirty days. Their official website provides you with tools to track your word count goal, advice, and inspirational pep talks to keep you motivated. The program was definitely what pushed me to write the first draft of Honey Butter.
I’ve been obsessed with writing and storytelling for as long as I can remember, but always struggled to finish anything longer than a short story. My goal in writing Honey Butter was to write something a step up from a short story. Something simple and short and sweet, but something I could write with excellence. Something I could be proud of. Although all my projects before this had been epic fantasy and sci-fi novels, for this I purposefully kept myself to a limit of 30k words and a contemporary story set in an ordinary suburban neighborhood.
I have a video on my YouTube channel about the process of writing Honey Butter, which I highly recommend. I explain everything more eloquently and in depth there, with some advice for young writers who are experiencing the same struggles I did!
Are any of your characters based on friends, siblings, or anyone in real life? And most importantly, do they know if someone is based on them?
I’ve never purposefully based a character on someone I know, but it sometimes happens on its own. My younger brother and sister swear that the Zs, a pair of chaotic trouble-makers in Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen, are based on them. I never thought about that once while writing! It’s all very subconscious for me.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with both positive and negative reviews?
So far, yes, I have read my book reviews, but that’s mostly because there aren’t very many of them. Due to having a smaller number of reviews, there also aren’t many hateful ones. I anticipate receiving a lot more reviews once my traditionally published books are released, because those companies have a built-in audience that I don’t, and it has been on my mind lately, how I should approach reviews once I start getting large numbers of them.
Abbie Emmons, an author and YouTuber I follow, mentioned getting in a very bad mental place with reviews when her first novel came out. She read every single review for a while, and whether she had a good day or a bad day depended on the reviews she got. Obviously, that’s not healthy.
I think it’s a balance. You need to be able to take feedback and hear what your readers are saying, but you can’t let it consume your life. It comes down to having confidence in your story. You have to be able to see through both flattery and hate to recognize your story for what is truly is.
How was your journey from going through traditional publishing after self publishing your other projects? Which method do you prefer?
It’s been a really interesting experience, and I love both! I love the control of self-publishing and the fact that I get to be intimately a part of how the book is produced. Still, traditional publishing has a wonderful collaborative nature to it, and it’s amazing to work with such talented and hard-working individuals. The process and experience with traditional publishing can also really change depending on what company you work with.
In the future, I’ll choose a route depending on what I think each book needs.
What aspect of your books do you treasure the most? Were there any scenes that felt particularly easier or harder to write?
My favorite part of writing is when the characters come to life. If you develop characters well, they’ll sort of start talking and acting on their own, or, to put it in less whimsical terms, you know exactly what they would do or say in any situation. Thus, all you have to do is create the right situations, put your characters in them, sit back, and type as fast as you can. It’s like building a marble run and then experiencing the satisfaction of watching your marble zoom through it exactly as you intended. Those are my favorite scenes to write, with characters bouncing off each other and their environment until they land exactly where they need to be to further the plot.
Of course, sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes you’ve miscalculated the placement of a few pieces in your marble run, and when you put the marble in it falls out off the track, or goes in a different direction entirely. That’s when adjustments need to be made.
How has your process of writing books tailored to younger kids changed as you got older? How does writing middle grade feel to you compared to the process of writing books for an older audience?
I’ve never written a book for an audience older than middle grade, so I don’t know! I’ve never felt held back by the limitations of middle grade. In fact, I’m not really sure what those limitations are, it’s always been instinctual for me. Even now, at nineteen years old, I never read adult fiction and only read YA very rarely.
My process has never changed towards how I view middle-grade characters. I may not be middle-grade age anymore, but I remember what it was like, and I’m still around kids a lot, between my four younger siblings, babysitting, and volunteering in the children’s department at my library.
I think the key is not to make a list of dos and don’t when it comes to writing for and about kids, but instead to try and think like a kid yourself. Kids are smart, they just have less experience in life than adults do.
How long do you take to draft your books, and what does your author process look like? How many hours a day do you usually write?
I always write my first draft as quickly as possible, which takes one to three months, depending on the length of the draft. I have to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak, and take advantage of that initial burst of inspiration. The drafts after that vary, they can less or more time than the first draft, it all depends on what changes I decide to make. I alternate between receiving feedback from beta readers and author friends, and implementing the changes until I feel that the story is the best it can possibly be! It usually takes me four or five drafts to get there.
When I’m writing a first draft I spend anywhere from one to five hours a day writing. That’s the most intensive part of the process. Once I get to later drafts progress it a bit more difficult to measure. I’ll often go days or weeks without writing in drafts two and three, but I never stop brainstorming and thinking through the best way to improve the storyline. That way, when I do sit down to write, I don’t spend too much time staring at my blinking cursor. Half the battle is sorting out what I’m going to write. After that, it comes pretty easily to me.
How did you navigate the publishing process and “break into it”? Did it feel exciting or intimidating?
I always knew I wanted to publish my books someday, so I would say it felt a lot more exciting than intimidating. There was definitely a lot to learn, but I loved every minute of the learning process. I started out by researching publishing in-depth and eventually settled on using Ingramspark for my self-publishing distributor. Later, when I wanted to explore traditional publishing, I did a lot of research on how to query and the different pieces that went into that avenue.
What is the most difficult part of being a writer for you?
Getting distracted. Our modern world is full of distractions, and writing, by nature, requires you to be bored enough to come up with your own imaginative entertainment. When social media is always at my fingertips, that can be very difficult. Those distractions have always been a struggle for me, but I learn and grow every day!
Has middle grade always been your favorite genre, and do you plan to write something else in the future?
I follow my inspiration, and so far all the story ideas I’ve come up with have been middle-grade! If I get an idea in the future that better lends itself to YA, then yes, I’ll write a YA book, but otherwise, I don’t have any plans to. I do have plans to write more picture books in the future! Picture books are a very special medium to me–they’re like an art gallery and a short story rolled into one. I can’t draw, but I love working with people who can, and I love the challenge that comes with telling a story in such a short format.
If you could be anything but an author, what would it be?
A stage actor.
I’ve been acting in community theater since I was very young, and I absolutely love it. The collaboration with the cast and crew and the opportunity to bring a character to life is a very special experience. I love working with fellow creative people, and I love putting on a show. There’s something beautiful about hearing your audience’s reaction in real-time, and for a few hours, in one room, a group of strangers are all fully immersed in a story together.
Being an author while juggling school is extremely difficult. How did you navigate this?
I was homeschooled my entire life, which I genuinely believe is part of the reason I became the writer I am today. My parents tailored my education to me individually, which meant that at the beginning of every year, we would all sit down together and figure out what my education would look like for that phase of my life. I helped set my own goals and create my own booklist. Because I set my own deadlines, and because I was studying everything in a way that interested me, I learned how to be self-motivated, organized, and productive. I did all my schoolwork in the morning and then spent the rest of the day writing. A lot of the things I did to further my writing career also counted towards high school credits like creative writing, business writing, business research, etc.
Since you’re also an avid reader, I’d like to know– what books inspired aspects of your own projects? Do you read the same genres you write?
Yes! I’m a big fan of middle-grade, and I always will be. Two books that were influential to me at a young age were Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I listened to those two audiobooks over and over and over again when I was little, and they definitely instilled in me a sense of wonder for everyday life, and the importance of imagination and hope.
One of my favorite quotes about storytelling is “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.” Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess are in the category of making familiar things new.
In the category of making new things familiar, I also grew up reading Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
On the topic of books, who are your favorite authors and what aspect of their writing do you admire the most?
My favorite book of all time is The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. It checks all the boxes of everything I love in a middle-grade novel and executes them to near perfection. Mystery and adventure, lively characters, subtly quirky narration, impossible odds, and yet everlasting hope. It’s an adventure that is fun and fantastic, while simultaneously holding great depth and wisdom that leaves a lingering warmth in your chest when you finish. It’s the sort of book I want to write!
How did publishing Honey Butter transform your writing process for your future books? Did you feel any particular standards you had to meet with your second story?
I definitely learned a lot! The biggest lesson was that the publishing process takes a lot longer than I thought it would. In terms of writing though, I don’t feel like my process really changed, or at least, not much. For the most part, I was just excited to move on and write the next story!
It wasn’t until the publication of Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen that I really began to feel the pressure. When my second novel came out, it sold more books in a month than Honey Butter had sold in a year. That was exciting but also terrifying. Suddenly, I was worried. None of my new ideas seemed nearly as good as Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen did. I never wrote something better than that? The thought was a bit irrational, looking back, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the emotions of the moment.
I had major writer’s block for a year, harshly judging everything I came up with. Writing drafts, and then discarding them, hating them. That was a very difficult time for me creatively. The way I finally found my way out was to stop putting so much pressure on myself and write because I loved it–after all, that was why I started writing to begin with.
What journey do you want your younger readers to go through as they read your books?
The specifics depend entirely on the book, but in the end, I hope every reader closes a book of mine feeling hopeful. Because no matter what journey I write, it will always end in hope. That’s something I believe in very strongly. As G. K. Chesterton says:
“Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
If you could tell your younger self anything writing-related—whether it be publishing advice, marketing tips, anything, what would it be?
Quite honestly, I would say “Don’t worry so much.”
I’m very passionate and motivated when it comes to my writing, but there is a dark side to that when doubts start to creep in. What if I don’t make it? What if my writing isn’t good? What if it is good but it doesn’t matter because it gets lost on the internet and no one ever reads it? What if I do everything right, but I just wasn’t lucky enough? What if I’m still here in fifteen years?
But worrying about those questions doesn’t answer them. Doubting if a dream will come true doesn’t make it any more likely to do so. Worrying doesn’t make a difference in the outcome, but it does make a difference in our mood, and not in a good way. What does make a difference in the outcome is excitement and creativity and passion for the stories we write, and you’ll live a happier life along the way.
Millie Florence is an adventurous homeschooler who published her first book, 'Honey Butter', at age 13, and another middle grade book at age 15. Currently, she has two books on the way. She loves sushi, zip lines, and just about all things yellow.
Cailey Tin is an interview editor of Paper Crane Journal. She is an Asia-based staff writer and podcast co-host at The Incandescent Review, a columnist in Incognito Press and Spiritus Mundi Review, and her work has been published in Fairfield Scribes, Alien Magazine, Cathartic Lit, and more. Her work is forthcoming in the Eunoia Review and Dragon Bone Publishing. Visit her Instagram @itscaileynotkylie
i. smile wrinkles | 笑纹
They curl outwards, stretching themselves to bask in the sun: soft grooves twined upon aged skin. They remind me of parentheses, whispering quietly after a sentence; filled with memories of summer heat and full-moon harvest; monsoon rains and terraced farmlands; the graves of lives cut short, and the many springs of new birth.
I’ve never quite known what to call them. There’s “crow’s feet”, of course, and “rays of the sun”, or simply “wrinkles”, but my grandmother calls them “smile wrinkles”--those which fleck the corners of her eyes. When I was younger, I used to promise to myself: when I get old, 笑纹 [smile wrinkles] will be the only wrinkles I have.
My grandmother is the embodiment of joy. When she smiles, her entire being glows: she stands taller, her lips tug upwards, and her eyes crinkle in the corners, golden, like hot bowls of soup. Her eyes tell stories; the wrinkles around them of a hard life filled with small, yet profound delights.
My grandmother is one of “those people” in life. It’s one of those people who you’d never know would bring so much light, fill up so much space, yet is one of the smallest people in the room. She has made the best bread I’ve ever tasted, and travels, in spirit, over 7,000 miles every month to call me and my family over the phone.
I could go on and on until the world ran out of words and I ran out of metaphors, but this story is about her eyes, and my eyes. Because, I’m still convinced, that if you look at them close enough, you can see sunbeams.
ii. my grandmother tells me a story | 奶奶的故事
The first time I visited China was in the summer of fifth grade. Between hot
afternoons and damp monsoons I found myself listening to my grandmother’s voice amongst the drumming of the rain. And her voice told stories.
One night before bed, she paused to stir the pea soup simmering on the stove. I took in a deep breath, lying on blanket spread out on her apartment floor, and ask her to tell me a story.
“Do you know where our eyes come from?” She asked after a moment.
I wrinkle my face. “I ordered them online, and one day they came into the mail and I stuffed them into my eyeholes.”
“If you want,” my grandmother laughs. “But let me tell you a story.”
And so I listen.
My eyes were born in a kitchen kiln. They grew from cracked bone china; the murky tips of lotus roots, the seed-eye holes, festooning shower heads spraying water, eyes growing like weeds.
The weeds grew taller, engulfed in sheets of sky. Sleet fell, winter wrapped around the arms of spring like a blanket. The eyes grew, still; the kiln burned brighter.
The sun rose.
In fields of wildflowers and lonely melodies, the reaper’s harvest began. In sweeps of scythe, wheat fell, and the eyes burned like sulfur rising from the underworld.
They found homes.
The eyes, that is.
The eyes of our proud ancestors, sculpted from jade, cooked for years—they are beautiful.
The eyes grew wings and planted themselves in the sockets of children, sunbeams leaking through, and I could see, and you could see.
I watch my grandmother’s eyes shift and gaze and shimmer in the soft evening light, her smile wrinkles folding mischievously.
“I don’t believe it,” I said.
“It’s not real,” she replied.
I fell asleep moments after.
She has told me the same story for fifteen years, each time with fervor, each time with purpose. My grandmother is humble, but she will always take pride in who she is
And each time she tells me, I believe her a little more.
iii. eyes that slant in the corners | 骨瓷的哭泣
Bone china: ashes weeping into clay; vines squeezing daylight out. Porcelain tea cups and cold flowers, old rooms hosting fire, whispering in the hearth.
The first time that I learned the story was wrong was in seventh grade. It wasn’t that it wasn’t real—of course every bit of it was imagined, concocted up in a sea of ancient stories, brewed up with fine wine—but that didn’t mean it wasn’t wrong.
Clouds cover the sun, smile wrinkles fading into dust.
Why are your eyes so small?
Can you see the board okay? Open up!
Your eyes look like slits. You’re a fox.
I stopped smiling, because who has time to smile when you’re too busy opening your eyes wide enough for the world to leak into them, and burn them from the inside out?
I looked in the mirror and held my eyelids back with my fingers, because in a world where you are never enough, who gets to be beautiful?
Ants crawl up my throat and close my eyes, at last.
My grandmother’s story lies forgotten, gathering dust, in the corners of my mind where the monsters lurked. I fought them, until I could not, and I realized that the only monster was me.
iv. a word that wilts on my tongue | 在嘴上枯萎的字
I have forgotten how to smile.
v. dragon | 龙之怒
But, who gets to tell me? Who gets to burn my grandmother’s storybook and write our worth? Who decides who I can, and can’t be?
My eyes and my grandmother’s eyes are the embodiment of our culture, and for that, I am so, so proud.
And if eyes are the window to the soul, my eyes are copper, burning bright, magnesium strips set on fire, the rustle of brown autumn leaves melting into chocolate mousse cake.
If only eyes that are big are beautiful, let my heart be so big the size of my eyes will no longer matter.
In a world where only some can be beautiful, none can be beautiful. And if my eyes are truly slanted in the corners, let the rays of the sun leak through, thicker than blood, and shine upon the world.
The ants crawling up my throat become oxygen, and the dragon becomes my companion, the fire within. I ride the spirits of my ancestors, my eyes shining bright, because I am no longer ashamed.
vi. rays of the sun | 太阳的光芒
And finally, I smile, my mouth turning into the corners of my grandmother’s eyes, which radiate and extend into the rays of the sun.
Rue (she/her) is a writer from the Mid-Atlantic. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Alliance, Aster Lit, The Blue Marble Review, and TribLive, among others. She currently contributes as photography editor & opinion writer for her school newspaper. While she’s not consuming her body weight in blueberries, you can find her debating something philosophical with friends, or running with her track team!
Julia Turk talks her Debut Trilogy, Writing Dystopian Novels, and Publishing Deals [Exclusive Author Interview]Read Now
Cailey Tin: First and foremost, thank you, Julia, for taking the time to have this interview with me. Having your YA dystopian debut novel Lone Player come out this July 2023 must make you very busy, and we’re so excited about its release! Without further ado, here are 16 burning questions prepared for you–all about the writing process, book recommendations, and getting your debut trilogy through the publishing process.
What was the core idea that inspired your debut novel, Lone Player? And its name is also super cool, where did you get it from?
J: I found my inspiration for Lone Player when I was about twelve years old. I was scrolling through Pinterest and found a photo of a playing card tattoo that I really liked. It got me thinking–what if everyone had playing card tattoos? What would that society look like? I eventually tied in population control, and after that I developed the system of Running and Chasing.
While this is what inspired the world-building aspects for me, at its core, I suppose the main thing that inspired Lone Player was the concept of a Runner and a Chaser actually knowing each other. I was really interested in this relationship dynamic. I kept thinking, how can you unlearn that kind of hate? Or is there even hate there to begin with? I wondered what would drive a person to Run or Chase in the first place, even if they knew the consequences, which is how I eventually came up with the relationship between Ren and Eddie.
As far as the title goes, it actually took me quite a bit of time to find one that I felt suited the book best. I tested out a lot of different names, but I didn’t come up with Lone Player until I was scrolling through a list of playing card terms, and that one immediately caught my eye. The term refers to an independent card player, essentially, and I thought it really tied into the overall theme of the book.
What aspect of your books do you treasure the most? Were there any scenes that felt particularly easier or harder to write?
J: The aspect that I treasure the most in Lone Player is probably the relationships between all the characters. I spent a lot of time really diving into sibling bonds, platonic friendships, and romantic interests. I wanted to reflect all sorts of relationship dynamics authentically.
In Ren and Eddie, I wanted to explore the conflict one might feel when they care for someone who may or may not be “good for them,” and the kind of bonds that are created when people go through hard experiences together.
Since I’m really close with my brothers (they’re my best friends), I also really wanted to illustrate strong sibling bonds between Ren and his twin sister Margot, Eddie and her younger brother Milo, and another sibling pair that readers will eventually get to know.
A lot of scenes in Lone Player felt really natural to write. I’ve talked about this before, but I essentially write my first drafts out of order; I’m always writing down scenes that pop into my head, and eventually I put them all in the right place like I’m doing a puzzle. The first ever scene I actually wrote was Ren completing his first assignment as a Chaser. While a lot of details have changed since Draft 1, that one flowed really naturally. All the scenes with Aaron and Eddie felt really easy to write, too.
However, there were a lot of scenes that were really challenging for me, and it took me quite a few drafts to get them right. I really struggled with Ren’s training chapters and also with some of the fight scenes. The single hardest part to write was definitely the climax, since it contained a lot more action than I was used to.
When did you know that you wanted to be an author? Did you write any books you’ve written before Lone Player?
J: I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve spent my whole life planning story ideas and starting books I never finished. Storytelling is just something I’ve always done and I’ve never not been writing something.
I’ve always wanted to publish a book. However, in terms of my career, I didn’t realize I wanted to be a professional author until quarantine. I grew up wanting to be a marine biologist so I could study cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, etc.), but after my chronic Lyme disease and co-infections took a turn for the worse in the middle of my sophomore year in high school (which was also the start of quarantine), I realized a physically-demanding job like that might not have been too realistic for me, especially after I had a couple of major leg surgeries. Plus, while I love science, I hate the math that comes with it.
So during this time, when I was about fifteen, I realized I wanted to be an author instead. Writing was the perfect solution. It was flexible enough to work around my illness and bad legs, and I just really felt drawn to it. Maybe I’ll do something else on the side someday to keep me busy— like working the front desk of some haunted Victorian-style inn or antique shop— but writing is at the center of what I want to do.
I haven’t written any books before Lone Player. As I mentioned before, I grew up writing, but I never actually finished an entire project until this book. I don’t think I would have finished it if it weren’t for the Lost Island contest, which gave me the deadline and pressure I needed to get over my fears and simply write. I still can’t believe my very first (and very rough) manuscript won, but to me, it’s an important symbol of what might happen if you do things that scare you now and then.
How long do you take to draft your books, and what does your author process look like?
J: The amount of time it takes me to draft my books varies from project to project. For Lone Player, I wrote the first draft in 28 days because I was in such a hurry to submit it in time for the contest. After my publication deal, when it was time for me to write Draft 1 of the second book, it took me about three months to finish it, more or less.
I’ve been working on my current WIP (Project Sink— the YA fantasy romance I’ve been working on when I’m on Lone Player breaks) since the end of March, and after two months I’m about 60k words in. But I have other works in progress that I’ve been chipping away at really slowly, like my young adult fantasy series, Project Spirit, which has been around for a little over a year and I’m only a few chapters in.
So it really just depends on a lot of external factors, and how much of the book I already have figured out in my head. [As for] my writing process, it’s pretty chaotic. I mentioned this earlier, but I like to write my books in pieces.
I start out with a document where I make basic bullet-point notes about the characters, setting, plot, etc. Then I add a section called “Scenes to Organize,” where I write down all the scenes that are floating around in my head so I can keep track of them and organize it all later. I usually have a chapter-by-chapter outline that I’ll sort these scenes into.
This all goes on while I’m drafting. While I do like to have the skeleton of an outline before I dive into a writing project, I’m mostly a discovery writer, and I never have a book fully planned out before I start drafting.
Are there any characters from your book that are similar to real life people you know? (And do they know that a character is based on them? Haha.)
J: I don’t usually base my characters off of people in real life. Sometimes it happens subconsciously, but not in Lone Player. However, certain aspects of my characters are definitely inspired by real life things. For example, while Margot is her own character and we’re not really that much alike, her experiences with chronic Lyme disease and co-infections and mental health are inspired by my own. I’m also pretty sure Eddie has pieces of my anxiety, and Ren definitely has a bit of my OCD. None of this is really on purpose but I think a lot of my characters each hold different aspects of my personality.
I only realized this a week ago, actually, but I also noticed that parts of Ren and Eddie’s dynamic are heavily inspired by certain people I’ve been around in earlier parts of my life. Their story is completely fictional, but like Ren and Eddie, I also had a childhood friend I pushed away because I let my fear control my life, and like them, I’ve always been too afraid to reach out and try to make amends. I don’t think this particular person knows that pieces of our story are hidden in Lone Player but it’s definitely something I included subconsciously.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
J: I’d say my most interesting writing quirk is the fact that I dream in stories. A lot of book ideas come to me in my sleep. Sometimes it’s literally like I’m watching a movie. There are characters played by actors, plots, movie trailers, a soundtrack, even a credits sequence at the end. It’s really bizarre. One of my most vivid ones even has its own folder in my Google Drive as a potential writing project.
Have you ever written something and loved it at the start, then lost motivation mid-way and gave up on it? If not, how do you deal with a lack of motivation as an author?
J: I’ve definitely written things I’ve loved at the start—and then lost motivation mid-way. Although it’s really challenging, I do believe motivation is something that constantly fluctuates, and I think it’s really important to listen to your own intuition as a writer. If you’re not held down by publication deadlines or external commitments, I think it’s important to simply write what you’re in the mood for. If you’re not feeling up to writing something, that’s okay! You can come back to it later and that’s the beauty of being a writer. Just make sure you never delete any of your ideas.
Lone Player is actually the perfect example of this. Like I mentioned before, I came up with the idea when I was about twelve. I brainstormed a bit, sketched out some character ideas, and then gave up on it because I got distracted by another project (that I don’t remember). But I kept that page of notes on my Google Drive, and by the time I was seventeen, searching for an idea that felt right to work on for the Lost Island contest, I stumbled across those notes again. Now, I have a debut novel ready to be published on July 8, and publication deals for the next 2 books in the trilogy.
Another example is something I heard from Brandon Sanderson’s writing lectures on YouTube. He mentioned that it took him ten years to get Way of Kings right, and now it’s one of his most successful books, and the first in a really moving series that readers feel very connected to. It’s one of his best works.
So when you lose motivation, don’t think of it as the end of a project. Think of it as a detour. We’re meant to do things exactly when we do them, so I think if you’re drawn to other projects, that’s perfectly okay. It’s also completely fine to give up on a project if it feels right. But if you’re struggling with your motivation, maybe it’s simply time to switch things up a bit.
What is the most difficult part of being a writer for you?
J: For me, the most difficult part of being a writer is the insecurity. Thanks to my anxiety and OCD, I struggle with a really bad imposter’s syndrome. I always feel like the things I’m writing make no sense, or that I’m upsetting people, or that I’m just not good. Another thing I worry about is that my story has already been written, or that it’s too simple.
There are so many worries a person can have as an author, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me. But by writing through the worries, I’ve learned a lot about how to handle my fears and perfectionism. The best thing you can do if you struggle with something similar is to write anyway, even if it’s scary.
Has dystopian books always been your favorite genre, or do you plan to write something else in the future? (P.S. if you love dystopian books, don’t be shy in dropping some recs hahahaha.)
J: I love dystopian books, but my favorite genre has always been fantasy. I was raised on sci-fi and fantasy classics, and while I love both, fantasy is my home. I’m actually a bit surprised that I chose to write a dystopian novel for my debut, because fantasy was always what came easiest to me. However, I’m only half surprised, since I came up with the idea right in the middle of the 2010’s YA dystopian era. I think my favorite YA dystopian rec is the Arc of a Scythe series. I also really enjoyed The Fifth Wave, and The Hunger Games, of course.
I have a lot of writing plans for the future. There are a couple dystopian ideas in there— a really fun post-apocalyptic one particular— but mostly fantasy.
Did you always know that Lone Player was going to be the first book of a trilogy? And what was the feeling of knowing that you were embarking on a journey that could take a considerably huge amount of time?
J: I think I always knew that Lone Player was going to be the first book in a trilogy. When I submitted the first draft for the Lost Island contest, I honestly had no idea what book 2 or 3 would be about, but it just felt like the kind of story that would make a good trilogy.
It’s pretty strange to think about how long this journey has already been and how long it will be. I was seventeen when I wrote the first draft, and now I’m nineteen and a completely different person. By the time the third book is out, I’ll be in my twenties, and probably someone entirely new. It’s really weird to think that this trilogy is going on a journey right alongside my own journeys in life, but it’s also very comforting to think about how much progress I’ve made. Excited for what the future holds!
Being an author while juggling it with school is extremely difficult. How did you navigate this?
J: Yes— being an author while in school is really hard.
I mentioned my surgeries and my battle with Lyme earlier. I was too sick to finish school so I had to graduate early and take a few years off of school while I was still at home, so when I wrote Lone Player, I was actually already graduated and kind of taking a gap year, if you will. This is how I had the time to write Lone Player in only 28 days.
Now that I’m in college, however, I have to be really strategic about how I balance out my writing. I make an effort to write a little bit every day. With last semester’s schedule, I had at least four hours total in breaks between classes every day, so I’d spend that time writing in the library. I also made an effort to visit coffee shops after class to get some writing done before I got home, which is when I worked on my assignments. Separating my schedule based on location really worked for me. Libraries and coffee shops were for writing, and home was for homework. It’s all about finding a balance that works for you, and being consistent with your writing habits. The more consistent you are, the easier it is to fit writing into your schedule.
Since you’re also an avid reader, I’d like to know–what books inspired aspects of your own projects? Do you read the same genres you write?
J: Yes, I’m definitely an avid reader! Scythe, The Fifth Wave, and The Hunger Games were definitely huge inspirations for Lone Player, since I read those books in middle school (around the same time that I developed the idea for LP).
I usually read the same genres I write, mostly fantasy. But I’ve also been enjoying a few contemporary romances lately, which isn’t something I expected.
If you’re curious, my favorite book is definitely The Cruel Prince! Cardan has my whole heart. I also really enjoyed An Enchantment of Ravens and A Far Wilder Magic.
On the topic of books, who are your favorite authors and what aspect of their writing do you admire the most?
J: My favorite authors include Holly Black of course, Brandon Sanderson, and Margaret Rogerson, among many others. I love the characters and fairy folklore in Holly Black’s work, the world-building and intricate plots in Brandon Sanderson’s, and the really immersive, almost Ghibli-esque quality of Margaret Rogerson’s writing.
What was the first book that made you cry?
J: The first book that made me cry was probably All the Light We Cannot See. I sobbed for hours after reading that book, and I re-read it three times after and cried even more. But if you want to go even farther back, then it was probably the Puff, the Magic Dragon picture book.
What journey do you want readers to go through as they read Lone Player, along with the other two books in the trilogy?
J: There are quite a few journeys I think readers might be able to go through while reading Lone Player, including the rest of the trilogy. I think at the heart of the story; I want people to explore the relationships they have in their own lives. I really want readers to dive into what exactly makes them love and why they do it. I also want the story to invite readers to question their own ideas of right vs. wrong.
If you could tell your younger self anything writing related—whether it be publishing advice, drafting tips, anything, what would it be?
J: If I could tell my younger self anything writing-related, I think I’d tell myself to just write.
I know you’re afraid. I know you’re scared of getting things wrong or not being good enough. But write anyway, because there is no such thing as bad writing. You can’t edit a blank page, and you can’t improve without actually getting the words out first. Always remember that writing is healing, and writing is growth—and it’s okay to do things that scare you every now and then.
Connect with Julia online!
Visit Lone Player on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/62210793
Julia Rosemary Turk is an author and artist based in Northern California. She loves all things creative, and she spends her days downing matcha lattes and writing stories. Julia is the winner of the Lost Island writing contest and will have her debut novel, Lone Player, published by Lost Island Press this July 2023. In addition to writing, Julia loves spending time with family, playing cozy games, and listening to indie rock. She's been battling chronic Lyme disease since childhood and considers her illness a crucial part of her identity.
Cailey Tin is an interview editor of Paper Crane Journal. She is an Asia-based staff writer and podcast co-host at The Incandescent Review, a columnist in Incognito Press and Spiritus Mundi Review, and her work has been published in Fairfield Scribes, Alien Magazine, Cathartic Lit, and more. Her work is forthcoming in the Eunoia Review and Dragon Bone Publishing. Visit her Instagram @itscaileynotkylie.
What is that? Above me, what is that? Inside me, what is that? What is that I see and touch, what is it I have known and found and remembered but cannot tell in words, preserve in words, make eternal in words. What is that I cannot save, from itself and from disease and from time, in words? What is that which I know and lost and see in dreams, as revelations, blind prophecies?
What is that intelligence divine, as Boethius had it, and the mortal reason which stumbles and falters and falls about it? Why, us! — This, only this, I know. I lie seeing it. I lie next to it. I’ve faltered and fallen about it. I see it and know it but cannot take it, save it, preserve it, tell it — for eternity.
This is the tragedy of language, this our damnation, this the mark of our sin — that we are fleeting, that the world must fall away, that we do not know what we see, that we stumble over our feet, that we make a terrible clatter with words that still must end in silence, nothingness, emptiness — that language and we are mortal — that we can only begin and not be, that we can only begin to exist and not exist, that we are mute — that we stumble and fall in heaps about an empty center, in laughable absurdity, in empty metaphor. — This is the mark of our sin.
Where is our sin? Is it an emptiness or an excess? Can we see our sin or only its mark? We are damned to half-blindness; we only know marks and symbols, metaphors and vessels of our truth, allegories and abstractions of ourselves; we only know language and not the thing inside it, not the thing it holds.
For what the war? What is there? What do they want? What do they have, what have they known that they have not (that is not there), what have they lost, what is that which they cannot lose, that for which the earth is washed in blood.
I see them and where they go. I know the stolid stillness of defense. I know they are virtuous.
For what the war? For them and for their wings I stand. For the sacred mind, for the mind’s freedom I lay down utterly my neck.
For the mind is to be worshipped, for God is of the mind, for the mind made the world and then a God to make it. For a person is mind and not body. For the mind is the soul. I worship the mind and collect its tears. And its tears are words, its tears are language — and we are minds but do not know them, and that separation and that distance is the distance of man from God, of body from mind — we are minds but do not know them, we do not know ourselves — damned to only look ahead, damned to half-blindness — we do not know our minds, we do not know ourselves — and words (language) are our tears — ours is a language of weeping. Silence. For what the war?
God and his word are the mind’s, that divinity’s, that humanity’s. The mind thought, and all came to pass. The mind made God.
Poetry as possession of the poet. As Heidegger has it, poetry comes from beneath the poet, from the earth, through the poet; poetry as the earth’s mire and filth, poetry as disgust at the earth and at nature. — Poeta vates. The poet as prophet.
Chaucer’s mundanity, Chaucer that pierced the folds of history, that rose from medieval tedium and made himself naked to the night storm, to the violence of the future. Geoffrey Chaucer, that remembered the pining Boethius and the self-pricking Augustine and the free-living ancients, that wound history and tradition and poetry into a vortex that unfurled itself two centuries later, and the Renaissance and Shakespeare and Milton and brave England came to be.
And Geoffrey Hill that poetic digger who died seven years ago, who saw and birthed our human past into the back-blind present and put on us metaphor’s armor that we may stand and hold and live past the night storm. I found that armor and wore it and it has heavied me and made me see the earth beneath me, Heidegger’s earth beneath the world, Heidegger’s poetry, Heidegger’s poetry as the brute earth and sea that possess me and rise through me, through my head as an Athena from her depraved father. — The poet is blind and is nothingness, is absence, and poetry is of itself, conceals itself, looks forward and back, is presence, is everything. — Chaucer that first wound up the mystery.
Baudelaire’s dreams, Baudelaire’s abyss, abyss of thought and symbol. The abyss of language. Language that is at once overcome by poetry, conquered by poetry, and that births poetry, lays it down, structures it, births it. Baudelaire’s dreams: the sea, the winged poet and the mocking sailors, the morning’s muses and the night storms, phantasms, the night’s fever, the disease of thought. Baudelaire’s dream of a literature after God, a world after God, a people that killed God — as Hegel and Nietzsche dreamed not long or far away. This dream Bach in his blind cave knew, Bach new God had died, and so sought to make God with his cantatas, his passions, his fever and fugue, the Art of the Fugue, Die Kunst Der Fugue.
But hypocrisy can be smelt. He was frightened, and I forgive him. Baudelaire’s dreams, Baudelaire’s abyss. My disgust at myself, my disgust at death, my life as a turning inwards and disgust at the sight. Death can be smelt. Schumann smelt his death, and they thought him mad. Van Gogh too, Keats too, Shelley and Byron perhaps. Yes, Death can be smelt.--
The mind is the only eternity. The mind is the only God. And I lay it down, mind, eternity, God, in ink onto the page.
How many eternities will I make? Many, many. And I will need none of them between the last breath and death, that silence, that dark metaphor, that abstraction of the flesh, — I’ll need none of them. But see, death is no eternity; it is a cursed and fallen soul. It is all except eternity. It is the maker of eternity. Only my words, only my tears, will be left when it comes and takes me — Death, the taking wind, my winter — And my words will sing in the winter of my days.
These numbers, all this I have been given, I have found by prophecy under the first snow of winter — where the flowers were, where the earth lies dead, where the poet digs.
The poem as a choice, as the necessity of itself over all else. The poem as the negation of eternity. The poem as a radical, political choice of itself over all else — a choice of the oblivion of language, the temporality of language, the inadequacy and vulgarity of language — a rejection of eternity for withering ecstasy — a rejection of eternity for oblivion, of divinity for damnation, of divinity for sin, of God for man.
“In the day we eat thereof our doom is, we shall die.” So Milton heard, so the Fathers, so the twentieth century mutters and spits, so I remember, so we know and say, so we thank them that made us.
Winter blows the taking wind. A fever comes. A cold fever. The body rots under new snow. Winter takes away. The wind takes away. Life takes away. Death takes away. And what is left?
The word that is the mind. The mind that is the word. The mind that is God. God that is the word. The poet that is God. The mind, the word, the poet. Neither life rots me nor the wind blows me off, because my word remains.
All this I found in winter, heard of the wandering wind. All this in winter, of the wind.
Nickolas is a columnist for the Paper Crane.
Notable for her witty writing, Maureen Johnson is best known for her upper middle school books such as Suite Scarlett and Truly Devious. My first experience with one of her young adult books was "Devilish," which, admittedly, wasn't her best.
The story begins with Allison Concord, best friend to Jane Jarvis, our protagonist, throwing up out of nervousness. She has been anticipating her "Little"- freshman or sophomore students- for ages, and is afraid that she won’t get one, since Allison and Jane are seniors and the number of Littles numbers are fewer. Predictably, getting a Little requires some form of popularity and likeability. Allison values both, and this trait of hers spurs into motion a series of events that lead to her eventually getting possessed. (More on that later) Jane, on the other hand, cannot seem to care less. (Which is more expected given that senior students in most books typically ignore the lower-grade students.)
Allison’s unusual obsession with this program is weird, but everything that drives her personality is too. Which is probably why when the freshman transfer student (because of course our villain has to be a transfer student nobody knows about) says she can make Allison’s wildest dreams of gaining popularity come true. Allison agrees, going so far as to sign away her soul. If a hundred other girls were put in Allison’s shoes, they would’ve burst out laughing. Or throwing up, since that seems to be established as the status quo..
Because, I mean, can we just take a moment to acknowledge what Allison has done? A new student who has zero friends expects you to trade your soul away, and Allison gives a very rational, very normal response: “Where’s the pen and where do I sign?”
One of the glaring issues in this book is that we don’t understand why Jane and Allison’s friendship is worth fighting for. Jane is betrayed by Allison whose betrayal includes- but is not limited to- a secret relationship with Jane's ex, who Jane is decidedly not over (as evidenced by her hundreds of torn-apart letters). As a result, the motivation to root for Allison flies out the window very early on.
That being said, there are some really impactful scenes in this book that stood out. Although we don’t get to see much of what Jane and Allison’s friendship used to be like, and Allison’s (selfish) motivations make her unlikeable to the readers, we are definitely made to sympathize with the protagonist (and thank god for that). Unlike us readers, she truly does love her best friend. So much so that it is hinted at that there may be something more between her and Allison, but I digress.
A particularly moving scene is where Allison is having a panic attack after regretting the deal she has made with Lanalee, to the point that she runs to the bathroom with pills to take her own life. Jane follows her, and her desperate attempt to save her best friend is raw, truthful, an anguished reaction illustrated beautifully.This is where some type of magic occurs, and it is a shame that the story doesn’t shed too much light on this magical aspect. To clarify the fantasy aspect, there’s a system of spirits that search for easy victims. Then, they possess their bodies and sell their souls, which is a sentimental comparison of the ongoing fight for fame in this world today. Anyway, there's some organization where the spirits can level up in "ranks" depending on how many years of experience they have. Experience with what, you ask? Experience with entering a victim's body and forcing themselves to bleed to death on behalf of that body.
Jane, as a character, intrigues me because her personality can be snappy, impatient, and arrogant, the cause of which is rooted in her intelligence. She describes herself as someone who can understand anything as long as she tries, from academics to the reason behind her best friend turning against her. However, this intelligence isn’t showcased in any way that contributes to the plot. Jane has perfect grades, yes, but in the book, in terms of street-smarts, it wasn’t outstandingly above average. After all, the wisest thing to do was to leave Allison alone and cut her losses.
As for the other characters, most of them were static all throughout. Some appeared interesting, and one who had the potential to be compelling was Mr. Fields. At first, one gets the impression that he is just some creep who wants to help Jane for questionable reasons. The same can be said for Brother Frank, the school’s teacher, who is on the good side. However, as the story progresses and Mr. Field’s true identity is revealed, he plays almost no part in growing the supernatural origin story. Sister Charles had an interesting, dark backstory too, and after the horrific plot twist that she went through, one would expect that the story would explore her character more. However, the opportunity was completely wasted.
And this is just one example of the many things that could’ve been unveiled or delved deeper into.
On the other hand, I did not enjoy Jane’s relationship with Elton. Every time Elton faces a problem, he runs away from it. He didn't confront the issues when Allison needed help. Near the end of the book, it became faster in pace when Jane’s assignment from Lanalee, in order to be set free from their contract, is to get a kiss from Elton.
This gave me immediate whiplash, not allowing me to fully immerse in the plot. There were so many ways the story could’ve resolved the issue of Jane getting out of the contract. Ways that would have given Jane more agency. The good thing that came out of this was that the readers could appreciate Jane’s adhesion to her moral code by not kissing her best friend’s new boyfriend. It shows her sincerity and made her much more likable. In typical Maureen Johnson manner, Jane is able to be set free from her contract without having to kiss Elton in a witty and unexpected way.
Jane eventually does get over Elton after realizing he isn’t someone who sticks with her until the end, but a large impact of this discovery is less on character development than it is because of Owen, an immortal teenager who stole her heart. I wish that instead of so much time spent on these romances, we could have gotten Lanalee’s backstory. Our villain could have been fleshed out deeper than being a stereotypical psychopath with a knack for unhinged sarcasm.
Moving on, even after Jane finds a loophole in Lanalee’s deal, Lanalee has one last trick up her sleeve. The ending had me quite confused. Owen, now Jane’s romantic interest, tells her, "You’re with us now." This means that Jane is now a part of the organization that stops such soul-possessing devils, but what exactly will she do in this organization? Cut people’s toes again (yes, that happens)? Also, won’t anybody notice in the future that Jane’s boyfriend is immortal? Overall, Johnson’s voice in every book she pens always stands out because the narrative is comedic and sassy and, most importantly, relatable.
Cailey Tin is an interview editor of Paper Crane Journal. She is an Asia-based staff writer and podcast co-host at The Incandescent Review, and her work has been published in Fairfield Scribes, Gypsophila zine, Alien Magazine, and more. She has work forthcoming in the Eunoia Review and Cathartic Lit. Visit her Instagram @itscaileynotkylie.
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