On burnout, writerly cross-training, & little kindnesses

So, I've been considering various conversations with regard to The Guilt that surrounds a stretch of time spent Not Writing. Hence, I am going to talk, a bit incongruously, about the ankle I sprained last month!

Now, having been, at various points, a fairly dedicated martial artist, a competitive university pentathlete, and a lousy-but-disciplined teen ballerina, I have messed up both ankles a lot! I have also thoroughly abused my knees and feet! One of the more memorable bits of age 15 was spraining an ankle in tech week for La Bayadère, and going crying to one of the senior girls in the corps, who kindly taped my ankle, fed me some aspirin, pinned up my hair, and sent me right back out onstage. Mind you, this was a high school show, and I was not in any way a serious or especially important dancer, but Not Dancing never really occurred to either of us, because it wasn't a bad sprain; we'd both suffered far worse in training. For goodness' sake, we weren't even dancing en pointe! Dancing on a mild sprain, off pointe, in a decent-sized corps, for one weekend? Eh. Cake.

Now, at 15, I got away with this logic, but at 20, 23, now 27, sports injuries are a lot less forgiving, in part because I pulled stupid stunts like dancing La Bayadère on sprained ankles at 15, or TKD sparring on lightly fractured toes at 20, or footraces on bad knees at 23. And sure enough, my 27-year-old self went to the gym a few weeks ago, overtrained some kicks on a heavy bag, & sprained an ankle the next day by literally walking too hard on it, WELL DONE, ANDREA. (I've almost got full rotation back, though, so woo!)

Now, what do overzealous athletic types share with writerly creative types? Having been both, I'll say: a constant flirtation with burnout. Look, sometimes you will ill-advisedly dance or spar or otherwise aggravate your poor abused ankles. Sometimes, you do what you gotta do to hit deadline. This is true of writing and work and indeed, the ineffable exhaustion of existence in general. But there is absolutely such thing as overtraining, and yes, it sucks. So, how to cope with that looming, cackling spectre of The Guilt that insists on translating "I wish to avoid re-spraining my ankles" / "staring at my word count is becoming actively unhealthy" to "YOU LAZY BUM"?

Well, first off, The Guilt is being an ableist dickhead, among other things, and you should tell it to fuck off. However, recognizing that this is easier preached than acted on, if you'll indulge my ongoing athletic metaphor, I like to think of non-word count-focused activities as the writerly equivalent of cross-training. Dancers and martial artists don't just dance and spar, after all; we also do cardio, strength, stretches, barre, etc! Likewise, writers don't only write. We research, we read other people's words, we digest them, we study craft. Extending further: we talk to people, we nurture hobbies, we observe the little things that make the world around us tick. These things revitalize the creative well as much as mental/physical health. Those supplementary activities aren't just beneficial; they're necessary.

I should, at this point, add the disclaimer that I'm speaking from a blatant place of privilege across a few axes: most notably class & a certain degree of able-bodied-ness, both of which enable the anecdotes I've shared. My frame of reference might not speak to you! But framing aside, what I'm really hoping to crystallize are three notions: 1) not-writing helps make good writing, 2) you are more than the sum of words you produce, and 3) you deserve a space in which to collect the kindnesses you owe yourself.

All this to say: there's more than one way to be a productive artist/athlete/human. Yes, hard work is a given! Yes, you will probably have to play stressful scheduling tetris to make time for word wrangling! But for the love of your health and happiness, take breaks, or if you must, CROSS-TRAIN. Not all writer's work must be dredged from pen or keyboard while staving off carpal tunnel scares. At least half of writer's work, I'd hazard, is carving a crook in your soul for the world around you, and that much can be done in any number of ways. Revel in it, cradle the pause, and as multiple martial arts & ballet instructors have commanded me: breathe. 

How I Got My Agent: A Tale of Hell & (Occasionally Literal) High Water

As a lot of you know, around late 2016, I started writing short SFF fiction. I'd dabbled here & there in undergrad, but over a lifetime largely in love with long form, I'd neglected short form craft. But at 25, swamped with my Washingtonian day job in international affairs & creatively drifting apart from the literary agent who'd first signed me for a novel that died in submission over a year before, I'd hit a rut. My latest novel-writing attempts were terrible & making me miserable, I'd convinced myself I was A Hack All Along, and everything was The Worst! 

Eventually bored of The Worst, however, I decided to get over myself and try a new tack. After binge reading the likes of Isabel Yap, Zen Cho, and Alyssa Wong, I wrote a bunch of short stories, which remarkably enough, 1) I genuinely enjoyed, and 2) a handful of SFF publications enjoyed enough to pay me actual money for! 

Then the US election happened, which hit both my professional and personal communities in DC with the force of a million bricks. A new routine emerged: I'd get out of bed, do my job, come home, have myself a good existential stress-cry about the future of the geopolitical landscape, my career, and my sense of self – so like, normal 20-something stress-crying, but weirdly and specifically magnified – and keep writing. It became an odd combination of catharsis, escapism, and witness. I wrote angry, I wrote depressed, but I also managed to write, at times, with a desperate, rebellious sort of joy. I could command so little of what happened around me, but I'd be damned if I couldn't command words.

Time for friends, meals, and cathartic stretches in martial arts gyms wound its way into my routine too, mind you, but mostly my days looked like this: wake up, deliver an international security brief, cry, draft some war game strategy, cry, write some anxious cyberpunk stories, cry, submit my stories to SFF markets, cry, rinse and repeat. I drank a lot of water!

At some point during that long, awful year, however, something magical happened: a novel crept into my notebooks alongside the short fiction. It was a fun, punchy sci-fi romp aimed at YA audiences, and contained stuff like giant cybernetic dragons and dramatic military intrigue, but it was also a fundamentally North American-set story carried by an Asian girl lead, multiple supporting Asian characters, a POC-majority cast, casually but explicitly queer characters, and cheerful codeswitching banter rife with the language of diaspora and immigration. 

It was, I think, the story I needed most to tell myself – not only myself circa 2017, crying too much and overly aware of life's uncertainties on every level, but also my younger self from years before: the girl who'd hunted through books she loved for faces like hers and her friends', and never satisfied, decided – if I might quote Teresa Tran – to write herself into the narrative. Regardless of what happens to this book, I will always love it for that much.

Eventually, I blinked, and realized my odd little sci-fi YA was done, or as done as it could be for the moment. I dove into the agent querying trenches around late September 2017, with about 20 queries, about seven of which netted full requests, so not terrible returns! Meanwhile, though, in the two months that followed, powers that be wreaked new and exciting swathes of havoc on my day job, my neighbors accidentally flooded me out of my apartment – because my life is evidently written by gods overly keen on heavy-handed symbolism – and I wound up temporarily homeless on a kindhearted friend's floor, morosely rereading Megan Whalen Turner novels, pitying myself once more with great aplomb. 

This was also, naturally, when an agent called to tell me she'd picked my weird mecha dragon book out of the slush & wanted to offer me representation. Say what??!

She was wonderful, for the record. To that first agent, if you're reading this: you were and are wonderful, and that first call meant more to me than I can possibly say. In the end, after all was said and done and I'd frantically contacted everyone else with my manuscript, I had the tremendous privilege of not one but THREE offers of representation from three incredible agents. Each one of them floored me with their passion for both my current book and my future writing, along with keen editorial vision and author lists I practically salivated over. To this day, I remain convinced that I could not have picked a poor choice among those three, whose clients are all tremendous talents lucky to have such staunch, savvy advocates in their corners.

One agent, however, stood out to me for personal reasons. I'd queried Thao Le what felt like a million moons ago (by which I mean like, four years) with another novel: what was, in hindsight, an earnest but messy manuscript. Being a saint among agents, however, Thao had offered bb!Andrea some wonderfully kind, thoughtful feedback + an R&R. Alas, it was not to be, as I wound up signing with different rep back then! 

Nevertheless, her advice stuck with me (along with the Marvel superhero videos we'd bonded over in correspondence), and when she wrote to tell me how much she loved the mecha dragon book – that this odd little novel of mine was, in fact, one of the smartest manuscripts she'd found in her slush that year – it felt like the strangest, loveliest sort of kismet. I was also literally on my way to France at the time; hence, I had my call with Thao from a townhouse on the outskirts of Paris, like some ridiculous, aesthetic mid-20th-century writer cliché. Hey, there are worse clichés to lean into!

Of course, in the ensuing days, I'd hem and haw and wring my hands over Big Decisions (see above: No Bad Choices among my offering agents! If I could have signed with all of them, I would have, and was weirdly upset that I couldn't! Talk about first world problems, sheesh, Andrea.)

Still, I think I knew about 20 minutes into my chat with Thao, in my heart of hearts, that hers was the right representation for me. She'd laughed and cried over my manuscript and connected so intuitively with all the characters. She fundamentally understood all the various themes and subtleties I'd flailingly tried to convey through my worldbuilding, and she had ideas of her own on how to drive them further home. When I shyly mentioned the ancient 2013 query that should have long since passed from all memory, she DUG IT OUT FROM HER INBOX the next day and forwarded it to me, cheerfully going, "Wow, look what I found! I can't believe how much you've leveled up your craft since then. We may not have connected back in 2013, but my fingers are crossed for 2017!" 

"OH GOD," I replied aloud, around a mouthful of breakfast croissant, and covered my eyes with my fingers, on one hand mortified at my awkward POV switches and overlong pitch, but on the other hand, oddly and deeply touched. The thought of kismet stuck under my skin, as I wandered through Paris, slipping in and out of coffeehouses along the Seine, running my fingers over the book spines at Shakespeare & Co., and absently doing translations at the Château de Vincennes' Defence Historical Service, where of all things, I found an actual mechanical dragon:

 

mecha dragon sighting.jpg

 

Like I said, kismet! I thought about the writer I'd been in 2013, fresh and wide-eyed and utterly new to publishing, peddling my earnest, heartfelt little mess of a manuscript around. I thought of the writer I'd become in 2017: a grad degree, three years of day job, seven short stories, and a few disasters natural & otherwise later. I thought of the writer I wanted to be, of late nights and early starts, sweat and tears and uncertainty. I thought of hope, and the kind of joy that is also rebellion. A week later, I flew back into DC, went home to my (finally!) de-flooded apartment, and signed with Thao. I haven't looked back since.

Now, the good news is, I imagine most query trenches – trenches though they are – see a fair bit less drama than all this! I cannot, in good conscience, recommend writing and/or querying your way through literal floods and political upheaval. I realize it follows a noble & rather Alexander Hamilton-esque tradition, but the actual experience was stressful, dehydrating, probably bad for posture, and well... wet. 0/5 Yelp stars, would not take a second helping of this experience, thank you kindly.

That said, I will also unabashedly admit that hell and (occasionally literal) high water were worth finding the right advocate. Do your research. Learn their tastes – not so you can twist yourself into a pretzel trying to match them, mind you – rather, learn them so you can figure out whose tastes match up with yours naturally. In such a wildly subjective business, professional savviness is crucial, yes, but so too is passion, and the right personality fit. Your agent is there to sell your books, but a good agent will also guide you through a tough, overwhelming, and often heartbreaking industry, coach you on everything from craft to market, fight in your corner, and believe in your work even when you're not sure how to. My own has done that much and more, and I sincerely hope that yours will too.

Good luck out there in the trenches, friendos. You got this.

In Stirring Defense of Roy Thomas, A Most Excellent Occidental

I have become aware that recent remarks by creator of original-flavor Iron Fist, Roy Thomas, have given way to a most unfortunate hullaballoo. To so cruelly pillory this fine Occidental fellow is an injustice, for he is a credit to his race! Because Thomas is a humble creature (in keeping with the cultural expectations of his kind), he will not be so vain as to declare himself "the safeguard of some kind of Caucasian literary standard." However, one cannot deny that – bashful though he may be to assume such distinguished weight upon his shoulders – Roy Thomas speaks a voice for his people. After all, he chose to write the original Iron Fist as a descendent of the European peoples, because he "found [the Occidental experience] easier to write about."

This is only natural, as Occidentals face all sorts of adversity in the realm of literature. Why, Roy Thomas himself has decried our indifference to his people’s plight: "Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either."

Indeed, we must be ashamed of ourselves! As all enlightened individuals know, the Occidentals have historically faced much difficulty regarding the mastery of words. Indeed, they were mere illiterate savages for much of their recorded history. It was not until learned gentlemen of the Chinese and Islamic civilizations so benevolently bestowed their innovation upon these pitiable creatures in the eleventh century, that the Europeans even had paper to write upon!

As such, to lampoon poor Roy Thomas for being unable to produce the appropriate words to describe Asian people is an unkindness! After all, while an individual Occidental may prove himself exceptional for one of his unfortunate background, such a man is nonetheless beholden to the historical and cultural shortfalls of his people. His confusion over words is not his fault; one can only expect so much of an Occidental writer, even one who has so remarkably exceeded the standards set for his race.

Our "endless capacity for righteous indignation," as Roy Thomas calls it – and truly, one must marvel at how articulate his words are, for an Occidental’s! – is misguided. We should aim such indignation not at one unjustly-maligned Occidental writer, but at the inherent, violent strife within Occidental culture, which has so trapped their unfortunate descendants within the terrible shadow of ignorance and savagery. To turn a blind eye to their troubles is beneath our dignity. We may only hope that Roy Thomas shall continue lighting the way for his kind, a true pioneer and role model to all men of his hue.

Overcome by his plight, this most excellent Occidental now prevails upon us to "try to put yourself in [another excellent Occidental's] shoes instead of constantly complaining because they didn’t do exactly what you think they should have done." This is a fine sentiment, doubtless shaped by centuries of authentic European wisdom, which we outsiders are so lucky to sample from time to time. I hope that this essay, in its own small, humble way, has done what justice I could to Roy Thomas' most heartfelt plea. After all, I can only imagine what a great privilege it is, to experience the majesty of an Occidental mindset as a true native.

 

Disclaimer: In case it wasn't abundantly obvious, this essay is satirical. I think Roy Thomas, like most writers – and human beings in general, myself included – has probably said and done and produced his share of both merit-worthy and cringe-worthy things. I don't believe the two cancel out like some sort of bizarre sociological chemical equation that must achieve balance, as the Force must, but I do believe they add up to food for thought.

Netflix's Iron Fist, Abridged (#1-4): The Adventures of Iron Goldendoodle & The Bargain Bin Lannisters!

This weekend, between bouts of story-editing, I meandered my way through the first four episodes of Netflix's Iron Fist, which I'm actually quite enjoying so far, probably for the same reasons I've seen Vampire Academy three times. I'm pretty sure the writers pitched this series as, "What would happen if you put a goldendoodle puppy in the body of a WASPy ten-year-old blue blood, then traumatically dropped him off in the Himalayas for Fifteen Whole Gap Yahs? Probably, he would die, but that is boring and untrue to comics canon, so what if we made kung fu magic happen along the way in a manner most likely to bring the wrath of Edward Said's ghost down on our heads? LET'S FIND OUT."

Danny, when we meet him, doesn't actually appear to have mentally aged past ten, and is also still basically a goldendoodle on two legs with a fifth grader's education. Mind you, this doesn't stop him from wanting to run a multinational corporation. Professional and educational qualifications are for pussies! 

IRON GOLDENDOODLE: Hello, New York! I'm back from Fifteen Whole Gap Yahs in Asia, where I became fluent in Mandarin and the ways of the Chinese people. I have now returned to claim my rightful seat at the helm of my dead parents' corporate empire, but failing that, I'll settle for being a research intern on the China desk. Have I mentioned that I'm fluent in Mandarin?
PEOPLE OUTSIDE MARVEL LAND:  Oh, you mean the RAND Corporation? I didn't realize you owned a think tank! That's weird, but they do always need Chinese speakers. 

RAND:  No dictionaries allowed on the language exam. Begone!

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  But. But I studied abroad!

RAND:  Begone! Who do you think you are, Mark Zuckerberg? PERA PERA POPUP LANGUAGE APPS ARE FOR THE WEAK.

 

Not to be discouraged, we follow Danny the Iron Goldendoodle to a random street corner, where he meet-cutes the first Asian person he sees.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  Ni hao! I have just met you, and I ai you! That means love in Chinese, btw.

COLLEEN:  Oh boy, here we go.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  *eagerly spouts gibberish*

COLLEEN:  Failed RAND's Chinese language test too, huh.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  *spouts slightly sadder gibberish*

COLLEEN:  Hey, no shame, dude. They don't even let you use a dictionary on that shit. Downright unfair, if you ask me.

 

However, no Marvel adaptation is quite complete without Terrible Dads and Corrupt Corporate Drama. In what may or may not be an homage to the Game of Thrones alumni on this show, we get both neatly wrapped up in one, villainous package of Fuckboys, Father & Son. The Meachum men appear to be what would happen if Steve Bannon tried to cosplay Tywin Lannister, and acquired a slightly milquetoast Jaime substitute along the way.

STYWIN BANNONSTER:  Let me tell you something about cultivating loyalty, son.

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  Oh, I know this one! A Lannister always pays his debts!

STYWIN BANNONSTER:  False. A Lannister always poaches unsuspecting millennials from Big Four firms, then traps them in psychological horror films! They're already pre-conditioned by utilization rate anxiety, and buried under a mountain of student debt, so really, it's an upgrade for them. Say hi to Hollow-Eyed Due Diligence Intern #24601!

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  ... What happened to Hollow-Eyed Due Diligence #1 through #24600?

STYWIN BANNONSTER:  Oh, Jaime. Dear boy. Read some Sun Tzu. The English translation, obviously; classical Chinese is hard, and also un-American.

DUE DILIGENCE INTERN #24601:  *sings sadly* Look down, look down, you'll always be a slave. Look down, look down, you're standing in your grave.

 

It's rather unclear if Due Diligence Intern #24601 has a home or family at all, or if he just lives in Stywin Bannonster's creepy underground villain lair, performing Google-fu all day.

STYWIN BANNONSTER:  Have you found anything at all about this obscure monk order? Try this search string: "Order of the Crane Mother" AND ("Edward Said" OR "Orientalism") AND ("Rolling In Grave" OR "Despairing Screams of Rage" OR "Angry Ghost Swears to Haunt Marvel Forever").

DUE DILIGENCE INTERN #24601:  No adverse or noteworthy information was found regarding your search inquiry. 

STYWIN BANNONSTER:  Really? Did you try LexisNexis? Goddammit, 24601, if you messed up your Boolean search order, I'm going to Sun Tzu the shit out of you.

DUE DILIGENCE INTERN #24601:  Sorry, milord Bannonster. Er, Lannister.

 

Meanwhile, Danny, in true Iron Goldendoodle style, has decided to follow the complete stranger he met ten minutes ago back to her dojo.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  I was hiding under your dojo because I ai you! Also, have you considered teaching kung fu?

COLLEEN:  That might be a little weird, since this is pretty specifically a Japanese martial arts school. Like, you know those sketchy-looking Chinese restaurants run by white people in tiny midwestern towns that serve sushi buffets? And how you always regret all your life choices when you accidentally eat there?

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  I'm not sure I follow. Hey, want to check out my kung fu?

COLLEEN:  I would really rather not, Goldendoodle.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE: *pulling a pose* Look at me, look at me, I'm so good at yoga~!

COLLEEN:  Look at you, look at you, take these shoes and get out.

 

In a shocking turn of events, the homeless-looking dude running all over New York committing shoe-less physical assault on various white-collar workers and security professionals eventually winds up in a mental ward. He tries to convince a rather skeptical therapist that he's secretly Danny Rand. This goes about as well as you'd expect.

DR. SKEPTIC:  Your passport says you're from Toronto, dude.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  I paid extra for it in Morocco during my Fifteen Gap Yahs! The street vendor there says the True North is all the rage these days. Canada is the new America. Smoked meat is the new burger. Trudeau is the new Kennedy. The Moroccan shopkeeper says actual Americans seem too provincial, and so do shoes. That's why I had to pay double the usual price and give him all my footwear. Great deal, huh? Moroccan people are so wise in the ways of the world. 

DR. SKEPTIC:  ... Wow, no wonder you failed RAND's Chinese test. I'm pretty sure a Beijing bargaining showdown would actually kill you. 

 

Meanwhile, Milquetoast Jaime attempts a corporate carrot-and-stick routine on Colleen to get her to throw Danny under the bus. I think we're supposed to find this menacing, but the Milquetoast of it all kind of ruins the effect.

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  I have appeared, in my extra metallic-looking helmet hair, to FORCE YOU TO SIGN FALSE TESTIMONY AGAINST DANNY MWAHAHAHA.

COLLEEN:  ... Who?

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  That dude who called you from the mental ward and hid under your porch once! I bet you are in love with him!

COLLEEN:  Oh, you're talking about that goldendoodle who failed RAND's Chinese test! 

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  Sure, whatever. Are you gonna sign or what? I'll pay you!

COLLEEN:  ... You mean illegally bribe me.

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  A Lannister always pays his debts. What do you say?

COLLEEN:  I'm pretty sure I can rate how bad my day is based on how many white boys have put their shoes on my dojo mat. Also, no.

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  Goddammit, dad, I knew the villain laugh would be too extra!

 

Milquetoast Jaime also has a sister, oddly named Joy, who might be the most compelling member of the Bargain Bin Lannisters, though this is a decidedly low bar when your dad -- who is also pretending to be dead, btw, for Reasons of Plot -- is basically living performance art titled, "You'll Never Guess What Happens When Steve Bannon Reads Too Much GRRM & Goes To Comic-Con (Spoilers: He Traumatizes Everybody)." She and Jaime, our own homegrown "I Can't Believe It's Not Incest!" pair are, as the moniker suggests, marginally less screwed-up than actual Jaime and Cersei. Probably because Joy, while a bit spoiled and impulsive, does not appear to be a full-blown, Joffrey-mothering, direwolf puppy-murdering sociopath. That said, girl's got her priorities. 

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  Why would you care about something so tastelessly middle-class as money, Joy?

JOY:  Um. Because it pays for my fabulous shoe collection, and also, I am an adult human with a job and living expenses? Besides, real talk: being a rich white girl has worked out pretty well for me so far. Have you seen how swank my apartment is?

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  A POX ON YOUR SWANK; I CARE NOT FOR SUCH BOURGEOIS DECADENCE.

JOY:  Dude, I know you're woke after your Literal Fifteen Gap Yahs, but like, some people have student loans and shit. Though not me, obviously. I'm a Lannister.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  Ugh, AMERICAN WOMEN. SO BASIC. I knew I should have kept that Canadian passport. Other countries are so much worldlier than the United States. I wonder how Morocco is this time of year.

 

Not that Iron Goldendoodle's relationship with Milquetoast Jaime is much better.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  You threw me out a window?

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  Oh, you like that? I call it the Bran Stark-en-ing!

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  I can't believe you THREW ME OUT THE BLOODY WINDOW.

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  Look, it was either that or bang my sister, and I'm not sure how far I actually want to go with my dad's weird Game of Thrones LARP fantasies. I have issues, but not those kinds of issues, you feel me?

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  No! I don't feel you! And I don't want to! Y'all are gross!

MILQUETOAST JAIME:  Hey, has anyone told you that you look exactly like the Knight of Flowers? You could totally play --

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  IRON GOLDENDOODLE OUT.

 

That said, we do get cameos from some faves in the established Netflix Marvel canon! They seem decidedly unimpressed with what they've stumbled into, though.

TRINITY, JD:  As the single smartest person on this show so far, I'm in major-key judgment mode at all times, but now that the Tyrell heir has given up his life as a passive-aggressively bitchy flower knight to assume the form of a ten-year-old crossed with a particularly slobbery puppy, I can probably more easily leverage him for my own advantage, assuming he doesn't muss the carpet first.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  J-MONEY!!!!!!  :D  :D  :D

TRINITY, JD:  ... I still kind of wish Jessica were here to punch him, though. The horrid nicknames and alarmingly goldendoodle-like attempts at physical affection are getting tiresome. Also, I think he might have gotten children's sticky glue on my pencil dress during our last client meeting. Suppose I should be grateful it's not dog slobber.

 

Colleen, meanwhile, has gotten into the cage fighting business. Iron Goldendoodle periodically offers her cryptic sparring tips, some more useful than others. 

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  You could just stay in child's pose.

COLLEEN:  Or I could assume kicking-you-in-the-balls pose.

IRON GOLDENDOODLE:  This tattoo will protect me from harm!

COLLEEN:  ... I hate you, and everything, so much.

 

That's it for now, but stay tuned for more of this rollicking, postcolonial scholar-baiting kung fu adventure! In the mean time, enjoy these exclusive bonus missing scenes from the show:

I'm So Good at Yoga, or how Danny actually performs his Goldendoodle Fu.

This Tattoo Will Protect Me From Harm, or how Danny got that dragon tattoo.

Gap Yah, or: what really happened during Danny Rand's missing years. 

Beauty & the Beast, Shounen Heroes Edition: Who Would Throw Gaston Off a Castle Roof?

Because we're adults, my most excellent friend Claire & I spent St. Paddy's Day watching the new Beauty and the Beast and drinking cocktails. Auto-tuning aside, I found the movie pretty charming, and was fonder of grouchy-yet-bookish Matthew Crawley-eyed Beast than I expected to be! There's a lot we could probably say about the film, but honestly, the most important post-movie discussion we had was definitely the one about how the Beast is basically Inuyasha: anger management issues, check; literally part animal, check; really needs a manicure before his hands go anywhere intimate, check; Terrible Dad complex, check; curse angst, check; reluctantly in love with spunky bossy girl, check.

The sorceress is obviously Kikyo the ex-girlfriend priestess; Belle is Kagome the spunky schoolgirl; Cogsworth is Myoga the flea servant; Gaston is Kouga the wolf demon; and Chip is Shippou the baby fox demon. IT ALL FITS.

The major difference, though, according to mine & Claire's increasingly bourbon and gin-fueled literary analysis, is that the Beast's human conscience -- do these count as spoilers if the Disney storyline was first released in like 1991? Eh, whatever -- prevents him from just chucking Gaston off the castle roof, whereas Inuyasha would definitely throw Gaston off that bloody roof. Like, SUPER FAR off that roof, no hesitation, no regrets, except maybe when Kagome inevitably yells at him about it.

This, of course, begs the question of which classic shounen anime & manga heroes from our childhood would throw Gaston off a roof, and which would not. It's like the philosophical question of our times & a fun new drinking-game alternative to Marry, Fuck, Kill, all wrapped up in one! Here were the results:

 

Goku (Dragonball Z): Nope. (But Chi-Chi would.)

Vegeta (Dragonball Z): Could go either way, depending on mood and current empathy levels for the human race, which is really dependent on which place in his narrative arc he's at. (Bulma probably would though, lbr.)

Yusuke (Yu Yu Hakusho): Threatens to spirit gun Gaston off the roof; in reality, probably just swears at him a lot and punches him out cold.

Kuwabara (Yu Yu Hakusho): Really wants to throw Gaston off the roof, but can't quite bring himself to do it. Probably reacts the exact same way the Beast does, actually.

Kurama (Yu Yu Hakusho): Passively lets Gaston beat him up for a while, until Gaston insults his mother, at which point Kurama grows the Beast's magic rose into a giant demon plant that consumes Gaston's body, yet allows Gaston himself to live a cursed half-life. Gaston's soul feeds the scary-ass nightmare plant for all nightmare-fueling eternity; everyone is traumatized.

Hiei (Yu Yu Hakusho): Peaced out of the castle fifteen minutes before the villagers and their pitchforks even arrived. Gives exactly zero shits; cannot be bothered with this human idiocy. Hiei out!

Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin): Attempts to moralize kindly with the villagers, inevitably fails. Sighs, gives them all reverse-blade sword concussions & probable brain damage instead, then dramatically cripples both of Gaston's hands, so that the latter can never hold a gun again. No chucking anyone off a roof, though; that crosses a line in the moral code, clearly!

Ichigo (Bleach): Beats Gaston up, is briefly tempted by roof-chucking option, ultimately tries to gruffly talk the dude through his issues over a beer instead. (Might just end up having to chuck him off the roof anyway.)

Rukia (Bleach): ... Yeah, no, Gaston totally just got thrown off the roof.

Getting Excited About Successes (While Remaining Real About Rejections)

During one of the more anxiety-ridden periods of this year's budding foray into Writing Short Genre Fiction Seriously, I had three different manuscripts on submission at three major, SFWA-recognized, multiple Hugo & Nebula winning magazines. At this point, in the process of getting my feet wet, I'd sold stories to a few small indie magazines that compensated authors at semi-pro or token rates, but I'd never earned close to an SFWA-standard paycheck for my fiction. Yet somehow, by hook or by crook, my stories made it to the final round of editorial consideration at all three of these Fancy Places That Little No-Name Me Really Had No Business Submitting To. Two ultimately rejected me (very kindly!), but the third was, among other things, a journey:

 

Me:  I feel vaguely presumptuous for submitting a story to this big SFF magazine that publishes Nebula winners pseudo-regularly, & also rejects like, 98% of their slush, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, & also I have just had a shot of vodka, so am feeling bolder than normal.

Marketing Editor, a month later:  Hey, one of our slush readers liked your thing and forwarded it on to our guest editor for a special issue! Congrats, and good luck.

Me: ... Huh. *makes fatal mistake of Google-stalking guest editor's actually kind of big deal bibliography; sweats excessively*

Marketing Editor, several weeks later:  So, our guest editor decided to pass on your thing for his issue --

Me:  *sleepily reading e-mail in bed between snooze alarms* Ah, of course, no worries, now I can try selling this piece to a smaller mag --

Marketing Editor:  But he thinks your story deserves further attention, so he's forwarded it on to our multiple-Hugo-nominee editor-in-chief to consider for another issue. 

Me: *bolts awake, shrieks* He did WHAT.

 

Two weeks later, I come home from kickboxing training to discover a note from said intimidatingly accomplished editor-in-chief sitting in my inbox. He loves my story, a cyberpunk noir piece called "The Man in the Crimson Coat," and wants to publish it. I reread the thing several times, and check the name. He. Want. To. Publish. What??

Spoiler reveal: the guest editor who passed my story on to the editor-in-chief in the first place was none other than super smart, prolific Maurice Broaddus. And the intimidatingly accomplished editor-in-chief was Jason Sizemore, of Apex MagazineI spend several hours convinced that Apex has offered to publish me by accident, sort of like how the Oscars people accidentally thought La La Land won best picture & emotionally traumatized everybody. But in the morning, sure enough, I have a real live contract sitting in my inbox, which I sign & see countersigned. "AHA!" I think, "NO TAKE-BACKS NOW, JASON SIZEMORE, YOU'RE STUCK WITH ME & MY WRITING."

All jokes aside, though, I'm humbled and beyond thrilled that I've made my debut SFWA-qualifying professional-rate sale to a magazine that boasts such impeccable storytelling standards. Naturally, I freaked out all over social media about it. Not long after, I received an additional publication offer for a novelette of mine called "The Kitchen God's Daughter and the Sunshine Boy," from GigaNotoSaurus, an absolute gem of a long-form SFF webzine, which has published some of my biggest literary heroes, including Zen Cho and Ken Liu. Cue more freaking out! 

These -- and other sales I've made in the past months -- are victories well worth sharing & celebrating. That said, one of the shortfalls of curating a social media presence -- particularly for someone trying to build any kind of capital in the arts -- is that it tends to paint a rather unilaterally rosy picture. After all, it's in our interest to announce our wins, and getting to share our art in a professional venue with our friends is exciting! Social media, for this purpose, is excellent! 

So, have I actually been remarkably lucky with publication offers recently? Yes, I'd like to think so. That said, look: the myth that making it into one SFWA-recognized (or similarly prestigious) market means that you're a hotshot everywhere now is a filthy lie. In the same weeks that I received offers from Apex and GigaNotoSaurus, I also got something like six different (all very polite!) rejections, at least half of them from significantly smaller-name and lower-paying markets. Just because your work is right for one venue doesn't mean it's going to be right for another! For every success I've had, both in my creative work and my day job, I guarantee I have probably screwed up at least three other things. 

It took time, and a whole lot of growing up, to recognize that an editor's rejection is a lot like being rejected by your crush in high school. You may weep and rend your clothing and listen to Lea Salonga's version of "On My Own" on iPod loop in the dark for a week straight, but ultimately, rejection is a reflection on neither you nor That One Soulfully Hot Dude you like. It's simply an indication that you are, at this time, in this place, not an ideal fit for one another. Neither of you are bad or unworthy or wrongheaded! You just need to kiss different people. Or, uh, submit to a different magazine, rather. (Please don't attempt to kiss editors who have rejected you; that's probably a really weird and specifically-themed Criminal Minds episode waiting to happen.)

I'll cop to another confession: one major reason I didn't actually start producing SFWA-recognizable short fiction until like, 2017, is because pretty much all my creative writing energy -- and the resulting two-year-ish burnout & what in hindsight I now recognize as a minor but prolonged nervous breakdown -- was stuck in a vortex of Failed Novels. I've delved into more detail on all my bad novels in a previous post, but suffice to say that it is entirely possible to sign with a major New York City literary agency fresh out of undergrad, spend literally the whole of your early twenties feverishly trying to edit & sell one novel to publishers, and, even repped by an awesome agent, still wind up unpublished -- and feeling rather artistically worthless & morosely sorry for yourself -- at twenty-five. I know for a fact, because I have done this very thing. Was it fun? Not especially. Did I learn from the experience? Well. Art and entertainment careers don't get that hard knocks reputation for nothing, you know?

It wasn't until I took some time to get my life in order, changed day jobs, and sat myself down this past year, that I finally had stories to tell again. Do I still feel morose and sorry for myself? From time to time! I'm pretty sure "morose and sorry for yourself" is a standard-pack mood button for most creatives, and indeed, most humans. But then, we also get the "screaming at all your friends in joy because a person you like also liked a thing you created" button, so it probably all comes down to that whole equivalent exchange principle from Fullmetal Alchemist. (Anyone? Anyone?? Okay, I'm going back to my teenage nerd corner now.)

I also would like to point out, as a sort of upbeat concluding note to a post that necessarily contains some less-than-upbeat anecdotes, that even rejection letters can set off the "screaming in joy" button. One major magazine that declined to purchase my writing, for example, was Neil Clarke's Clarkesworld, famous for a reject-o-matic with an average 48-hour turnaround, a legendary 1/3000 story purchase rate from their slush, and a tremendous talent stable of well-established genre writers -- perhaps matched only by the number of talented, well-established genre writers that they have very promptly & very courteously rejected. That they ultimately rejected my story was not even remotely a surprise. That they first held it for review for a full month, and actually passed it up to second-round review was probably more flattering to my ego than actual publication offers from most magazines are. (Seriously, I screen-shotted the "Under Review (Second Round)" indicator and everything, just to prove I didn't fever-dream it. I am That Person.)

What's more, one of my most treasured possessions is a personal rejection letter from Nisi Shawl, which in addition to just being incredibly kind (and also being a letter from Nisi Shawl), includes a "P.S. Based on your submission, I have a strong feeling you are going to do well." Man, Nisi Shawl. If that's rejection, that's the sort of rejection a girl can dine out on for a month.

I'm still remarkably young in my career (see above: only signed a publication contract for my very first SFWA-rate pro sale in short fiction like, three weeks ago), and doubtless, I've got gnarly times ahead, along with some more (wood-knocking!) good. Ultimately, though, this post is, in some small way, my attempt to normalize the gnarly -- not just for me, but for other creative people, aspiring or established. Keep on keepin', my friends. The stories are worth it.