Chapter the First,
In Which We Meet Our Courageous Heroine
Alice Carroll could think of a hundred places she’d rather be than staring at an old dead woman on a Sunday afternoon.
Not that she was actually staring. In fact, she was trying to keep her eyes away from the front of the room where the old woman lay in her coffin. She was looking at the bald head of the old man in front of her instead. Until then, she’d never realized that the back of someone’s neck could be so wrinkly.
She shifted her eyes and looked around. Bad idea. Viewing the living at a funeral was almost worse than viewing the dead. The church was full of old people, with their wrinkles and their age spots and their loose skin. They were like skeletons shuffling around. She grimaced as she caught the eye of an old man with whiskers coming out of his nose. He smiled at her with his stained teeth, and Alice shifted closer to her mother.
Her mother gave her a sad smile and patted her hand. Alice glared at her and crossed her arms, covering the bleeding apple on the front of her black t-shirt.
She didn’t know why her mother had dragged her to this stupid funeral to begin with. It’s not like she even knew the dead lady. Nellie Stephens or Simpson or “S” something or other. Alice had only seen the woman a couple of times in her entire life, and her mother hadn’t worked with her for years.
She’d tried to get out of coming. She’d even asked the neighbors if she could babysit their two little blobs that afternoon, but they’d given her a funny look and said they thought she was too young or maybe they were going to be home all weekend. They couldn’t decide which.
Thirteen years old was not too young to babysit; Alice knew for a fact that they’d had sixth graders babysit for them before. The real reason was that they thought she was a bad kid. Just because she wore black clothes and dark eyeshadow didn’t mean she was a juvenile delinquent. It’s not like she did drugs or punched babies; actually, she got straight A’s and had never even had detention. She just happened to like things that were slightly macabre. Except funerals, of course.
She pulled up her black knee socks and admired the pattern of skulls sewn into them.
“We’re going to a funeral, not a Halloween party,” her mother had said when she’d seen them.
Alice thought they went pretty well with the black and blue streaks she’d put in her hair the day before. Plus, she had been hoping the outfit paired with her crazy hair would make her mother so angry she would let Alice stay home. That hadn’t worked either.
She twisted a strand of hair around her finger and noticed that the people in front of them were standing and leaving their seats.
“What’s going on?” she asked her mother.
“It’s time for the viewing,” her mother whispered back.
“The what?” Alice asked.
“Shh. Come on.” Her mother stood, and before Alice could say anything, her mother had pulled her into the line of people moving down the aisle.
Alice looked around, but she had already figured out where they were going. One by one, each person walked by the casket and paid his or her final respects to the dead woman. She noticed a few who actually leaned over the body itself, and although she couldn’t see exactly what they were doing, she had a sneaking suspicion they were kissing the dead woman’s face.
She felt a gag forming in her throat. She clutched her mother’s arm as the line edged closer to the casket.
“Mom,” she hissed. “I don’t want to go up there. I think I’m going to throw up.”
Her mother shook her arm loose and shushed her. “Stop it, Alice. Don’t make a scene.”
“I’m serious, Mom,” Alice insisted. She was beginning to panic. “I want to go home. I don’t feel well.”
Her mother turned impatiently and looked her squarely in the eye. “Stop. It. Right. Now.” She hissed.
Suddenly they were standing right next to the casket, and Alice felt her eyes being drawn to the corpse, like an insect drawn to light. The old woman’s face was peaceful, as if she was asleep. A strand of white pearls lay across her neck, and someone had brushed her eyelids with violet eye shadow. As Alice stared at the corpse’s face, her vision began to waver. She blinked to clear her eyes, but the image continued to flicker. The skin on the woman’s face began to wobble and smooth out, the wrinkles disappearing one by one. A healthy pink glow crept into her skin, a blush entering her cheeks. The woman opened her eyes, which were clear and blue, and then she smiled, revealing shiny white teeth. Suddenly, Alice was looking into the face of a little girl. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the color seeped out, the eyes closed, and the youthful image was gone. Once again, Alice was looking at the pale, sunken face of a dead woman.
The vision could not have lasted more than a second, but it was long enough for both Alice and her mother to pass by the coffin. Alice felt her heart skittering in her chest.
“Mom,” she gasped. “I saw…I saw…”
“I know,” her mother cooed and put an arm around her shoulders. “I know it’s hard.”
“No!” Alice exclaimed and shook off her mother’s arm. “Listen, Mom. I saw—“
“What?” Her mother asked testily and grabbed Alice’s arm to steer her out of the church. “What exactly did you see, Alice?”
Alice crossed her arms and kicked a pebble. “Nothing,” she muttered.
“Then, let’s go,” her mother said. She stopped and with a smile pasted on her face, said hello to a woman in a long black dress wearing strappy black heels.
Alice felt like punching somebody, but instead, she just followed her mother to the parking lot and bit a strand of black and blue hair that had fallen across her face.
She refused to talk to her mother during the car ride; she couldn’t get the weird picture of the little girl’s face out of her mind. She was so distracted, she didn’t even notice when her mother passed by the street that led to their house and kept on driving. In fact, she didn’t even know what was going on until her mother put the car in park, and she looked up to find herself in the middle of a cemetery.
“Um, this isn’t our house,” she said.
“I want to go to the graveside service,” her mother answered. “It’s the proper thing to do. After all, I owe my complete livelihood to Nellie, and believe me that you wouldn’t be enjoying the life you have now without her help. The least we can do is see her off to her final resting place.”
“Why?” Alice asked. “It’s not like she’s going to know we’re there. I don’t think she’s sitting up in heaven keeping tabs on who came to her funeral.”
Her mother held up her hand abruptly and hushed her. “All right, Alice, that’s enough. If you don’t want to show your respect and gratitude, then you can just stay in the car.”
“Fine,” Alice shrugged as her mother got out of the car. She didn’t like the idea of sitting by herself in a graveyard, but it was better than standing around a hole in the ground while a bunch of old people blew their noses and cried. Besides, she was still peeved at her mother.
As her mother walked away, Alice cracked the car windows, turned up the radio, and started playing with her phone.
Even with the radio on, she was bored. It was also kind of hot, and her feet hurt. She took off her leather jacket and removed her boots, replacing them with a pair of her mother’s boring brown sandals laying in the back seat.
She watched as elderly people shuffled past the car and stared disapprovingly in at her. She squinted at them and gave them a closed mouth smile, wishing they would mind their own business. She reached over to turn the volume up on the radio and heard a tap at the window. She looked up to see a little girl with curly blonde hair smiling in at her. She was the exact image Alice had seen in the coffin.
“Hey,” Alice said. She fumbled with the car door to roll the window down, and when she looked up again, the little girl was gone.
That was strange, she thought. She wondered if the fumes from the hair dye were making her see things. She scanned the parking lot and saw an old man hobbling along with a cane, but there was no sign of the little girl.
Suddenly, the little girl’s blonde head popped up from behind a blue sedan.
“Hey,” Alice shouted through the open window. “Wait a second.”
The little girl grinned and covered her mouth with her hands. Then, she turned and darted into the graveyard. She stopped and looked back at Alice, motioning for her to follow.
Alice wasn’t keen on chasing a little kid around a graveyard, especially a little kid who looked just like the vision she’d seen in the casket earlier. But, she was pretty sure the little girl was flesh and blood; ghosts didn’t generally knock on windows. Weren’t they more into rattling chains or something? Besides, Alice figured she should probably grab the little brat before she tripped over a headstone or tree root and broke her leg.
She groaned and popped the door open. The little girl was standing on a hill looking at her, and when she spotted Alice climbing out of the car, she turned abruptly and raced down the other side.
“Wait,” Alice yelled after her. “Stop. You’re going to get hurt.”
She slammed the car door in irritation and reluctantly began to jog after the little girl. After a few seconds, she reached the top of the hill, stopped, and looked around. Miles of headstones and trees stretched in every direction. She couldn’t see the little girl anywhere. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of white, and turning her head, she spotted a white ruffled dress disappearing behind a tree.
“Hey,” she yelled. “Stop running. I’m not playing with you.”
She was starting to get angry at the little girl. Little kids could be so annoying.
She was panting a bit by the time she reached the tree where the little girl had disappeared. But when she looked behind the trunk, the child was gone again. That was odd. She’d had a complete view of the tree and the field surrounding it as she’d been running. There was no way the little girl could have snuck away without Alice seeing her.
She heard a giggle a few yards away. It sounded like it was coming from behind a headstone rimmed with weeds. She crept down to the grave marker, and when she reached it, she leaped around it.
“Ha! I’ve got you now, kid,” she said.
But the little girl wasn’t there. Instead, there was a large rectangular hole. Alice was moving too fast to catch herself, and she fell head first into the open grave.
YA sci-fi/horror author of The End Games and Mr. Fahrenheit, T. Michael Martin, was kind enough to answer some of my annoying, fangirl questions, so I'm sharing the interview below. My questions are italicized, and his responses are other-than-italicized (haha--I mean, they're "normal" although some would argue there's no such thing as normal). You're welcome! :-)
Insofar as Mr. Fahrenheit is concerned--and my apologies if I get too spoiler-ish--why did you choose to go with the whole alien storyline? I haven't seen a whole lot of aliens in YA lit in recent years.
I don't feel that I chose aliens as much as aliens chose me, as strange as that may sound! After finishing THE END GAMES, which is a pretty intense novel with an abundance of zombies, I was feeling burnt out and wanted my next novel to reflect a "lighter" (though still suspenseful) perspective. If THE END GAMES is about my nightmares, MR. FAHRENHEIT is about my dreams, about that feeling when you're a kid and look at the night sky and life just feels so full of promise and infinite. For me, an alien plot seemed the best way to explore those feelings, which is how I wound up writing the book.
The main character in Mr. Fahrenheit is a young man named Benjamin "Benji" Lightman, who seems to be searching for...something...some unknown, perfect, "out of this world" moment. He's kind of a the-grass-is-greener-somewhere-else type of person. How much of Benji was influenced by your own personality? And if he's not, why did you paint him this way?
Well, as much as I love Benji, I don't think there's a ton of my current personality or outlook in him. That said, he definitely reflects my younger self. I admire a lot about Benji; for instance, he is a person who lives fervently by his values. But everything casts a shadow, and what Benji has to learn (and what I had to learn) is that idealism can be damaging and outright dangerous if not tempered with some semblance of realism. In fact, thanks to its dichotomous style of thinking, idealism can become a form of cynicism, and can lead to becoming a very bitter person when the world doesn't meet your idealized standards.
Ellie is Benji's love interest, and he envisions her as this almost super-human, angelic person. I love the scene where she puts him in his place and gives him that "get a grip" speech. What inspired you to create their relationship--and this scene--in such a way?
So glad you liked that scene! It was one I labored over a lot!
I was thinking a lot about gender roles in fiction while writing MR. FAHRENHEIT. Specifically, like a lot of people, I'm really troubled by the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope (though I do think the term has become overused a bit), which is ultimately a product of idealization and a kind of other-person-as-wish-fullfilment syndrome. Benji is basically a kindhearted guy, and he means well, but he begins the story with some problematic views of Ellie. It was important to me to have the main female character be both a tough and awesome person, and a naturally flawed human, and part of Benji's growth is learning to see all of Ellie, rather than merely the parts of her he takes out of context and is too enamored with.
My dad is the physical therapist for my hometown's high school football team. I spent every Friday autumn night of my childhood on the sidelines with him at every single game. I couldn't NOT make football CR's sport. :]
Did you have to do research on magic techniques for this novel, or were you already a magic aficionado?
Oh, I was definitely already a magic geek! It was so fun to finally put some of that nerdy knowledge to work in my fiction.
MR. FAHRENHEIT is really about nostalgia, about memory and how we misremember events in our past, and the profound impact those mistakes have on our present and future.
Many of the cultural references are influenced by bygone pop culture. I'm thinking Bedford Falls, doo-wop and jukeboxes, Charlie Brown, and this line in particular regarding Charlie Brown: "The kid still can't believe he got to touch the football." Do these references reflect a nostalgia on your part, and do you think young adult readers will catch these pop culture references?
Well, I think MR. FAHRENHEIT is really about nostalgia, about memory and how we misremember events in our past, and the profound impact those mistakes have on our present and future. So the choice to have those nostalgic references was part of a thematic purpose, as well as a bit of fun for me because I deeply love those things.
As for whether I think YA readers will catch the references, that's a great question! During the writing process, my agent and I actually discussed this--like, it's not at all certain that most teen readers will be super familiar with what doo-wop is, for instance. But ultimately I trust my readers, and also I hope that if there are things they aren't familiar with, they'll look them up and fall in love with them the same way I did. (There's something really magical about discovering something new, right?)
Regarding the other hats you wear, specifically your Internet persona, I've been watching your "How to Adult" videos, and I must say you are ridiculously charming and cute, so do you put a lot of effort into being nerdy or does it just come naturally *asked with total affection and respect*?
YOU ARE TOO NICE HOW DID YOU GET SO NICE!
Thank you, thank you. :] I have to say, I don't have to put any effort whatsoever into being nerdy. As Lady Gaga put it, I was born this way, baby.
How did you become associated with The Green Brothers?
Long story, shortened: John was a fan of my YouTube videos, and then became a fan of my books, and then my friend Emma and I pitched them the idea for How to Adult (our web series that they produce), and they agreed to produce it.
Finally, do you have advice for writers (or non-writers) on juggling multiple responsibilities at once--writing, doing vlogs, marketing, remaining employed, and possibly sleeping sometimes?
As Anne Lamott put it, just take things bird by bird. Small steps add up. Tolstoy said it best when he said, "The strongest of all warriors are these two - Time and Patience." I wrote my first novel, THE END GAMES, entirely while employed in various positions, including being a test subject in experimental drug studies! It took years, but it also enabled me to eventually become a full-time writer. In my darkest moments, I told myself that time was going to pass no matter what I did, so I might as well spend the time doing things that would build the life I wanted. Keep the faith, keep writing, and use your energy as wisely as you can. I believe in you.
My BIG THANKS to T. Michael Martin for graciously doing this interview with me (Thanks, Mike!)--oh, yeah, this is Cheryl again. If you'd like to read some of Mike's work yourself, then check out Mr. Fahrenheit and The End Games at your local library (Libraries rock!) or do something good for the world and buy them at biblio.com (They practice carbon offsetting for all book orders AND build libraries in Bolivia in addition to other do-gooder ventures.) or GoodBooks (They partner with Oxfam to, in their words, "provide clean water, sanitation, develop sustainable agriculture and create access to education" in impoverished communities.).
You can also follow Mike's How To Adult series on Youtube or connect with him on his website.
Below is my novel Glassbreaker Alice in images. Unfortunately, not all the pictures are showing up for some mysterious reason, but you can see the whole thing on Pinterest. If you prefer your stories in words rather than images, go to Wattpad to read the whole shebang.
In my last post, I promised to do a sneak peek of what's coming up on my blog over the next several months, so here is the what along with the why.
Alice in Wonderland
Here's the backstory: I wrote this super-funny (I thought) middle grade (say 4th-7th grade) novel-length re-telling of Alice in Wonderland. It's called Glassbreaker Alice and uses a lot of the same tropes and characters from the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, which is actually a re-telling itself (Basically, then, I've written a re-telling of a re-telling). After pitching it to agents and getting discouraged, I kinda/sorta forgot about it and wrote another book. But a couple of months ago, I decided to put my Alice story out there anyway, and I have been posting it chapter by chapter on Wattpad, where you can read it now (You do have to create an account first, unfortunately).
On my blog, I'm going to do some reflection on the story of Alice in Wonderland. Why does it persist? I'm also going to be doing some visual renditions of my novel and posting them here.
The Pied Piper of...Oklahoma?
I just finished a novel. It's a mashup of "The Pied Piper of Hamlin," the Cold War, and farm life. Weird combination, right? The Pied Piper is an interesting fairy tale with an even more interesting history. I'm going to investigate and share what I find out.
Bad, Bad, Bad Future
I am embarking on a new novel, which will combine the issues of terrorism, climate change, and refugees. Heavy stuff, right? I am in the process of doing research, and I plan to post some of the information I discover in future posts.
When it comes to college, be a Boy Scout!
Since my target reader is considering college or already in college and since I teach college classes, I'm going to do a series of posts on what to expect in college and how to prepare yourself. Included will be interviews with real, live college graduates or students in college right now.
Ah, the college years! Best years of my life...true story.
Of course, I'll probably get distracted by other topics along the way. I'm like a dog who sees a squirrel, that way. In any case, I'm quite sure some topic will come up that I feel a sudden need to blog about. What that will be remains to be seen.
Thanks for sticking with me, dear reader. We're gonna have some fun!
I started this website in 2013. I can't believe it's been three years already. So far, I have done 56 blog posts, and I have focused mainly on this question:
If I could go back in time and talk to myself at the age of 14 or so, what advice would I give?
And so most of my blogs have been in the self-help vein. I'm turning a corner on my blog, however, to explore new territory, but before I do, I'd like to look backward and recap my favorite blog posts so far.
My Top Ten List (in chronological order)
dead dog backwards--"This poem, which I penned rather quickly at DFW Writers Conference and have since revised, was inspired by a contemporary poet who is some-kind-of-wonderful named Joaquin Zihuatanejo."
A Tribute to My Grandparents--"I could say my grandparents were simple people with simple lives, but I don't think anyone's life is actually 'simple.' If they aspired to touch stars or see unicorns, I never knew it. They worked hard all their lives and seemed satisfied with the bit of comfort they had accumulated at the end of their lives."
On Hobgoblins & Roads Not Taken--"The identities we carry as teenagers remain with us throughout life. I still feel like I am the odd girl out of the group."
Becoming Wonder Woman (or how your body language affects your brain)--"Just by standing like Wonder Woman, you can hijack your brain chemistry."
be your best you--"This technique requires you to don a mask. The mask is made of up the characteristics of the personality you want to assume. . . . Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be the person you want to be."
i was an awkward teenager--"So, yesiree, I was quite the awkward weirdo when I was a teen."
i am that racist white lady--"What I do remember is that guilt gnawed me like little, scrabbling mice. How could I have thought that Greg had had anything to do with the robbery? Was that the idea I had communicated to his mother? Had I bought into the stereotype of melanin rich young males? And more insidious, what did the idea that I had suspected other young men in Greg's peer group, boys he might have been friends with, say about my own notions of race and crime?"
Little Smudges of Greatness--"I told my students they had a little spark of greatness within them. They do. We all do. But if we don't constantly kindle that spark, it will die, and we will be left with regret for what could have been."
Beans and Fried Taters--"Culture isn’t about being fancy, or at least, I don’t think so. It is a much more casual thing. It's the everyday happenings that fill up our lives. My culture is paint-splattered shoes that should have been thrown out months ago and t-shirts with bleach spots. It's a dog with a muddy rear end and a bucket full of kitchen scraps."
Remembering James--"James was a nice guy, a genuinely nice guy. It seems like everyone has some sort of shortcoming, and some people make you wonder if their friendliness is authentic or if it's coming out of some sort of self interest. But not James. He was just a good guy."
I hope you get the chance to go back and read some of these...be sure to leave comments.
In my next blog post, I will use my crystal ball to look into the future. Oooh, anticipation!
Feel free to share this post, but the ones listed above are much more shareable.
This poem, which I penned rather quickly at DFW Writers Conference and have since revised, was inspired by a contemporary poet who is some-kind-of-wonderful named Joaquin Zihuatanejo. He gave us this poem (follow the link!) and asked us to model it in our own writing.
Here is the prompt Zihuatanejo gave us: A young man drunk on whiskey and heartache has just crashed his car into a tree. Well, the image that came to my mind was not a drunk kid but an animal on the side of the road, the victim of a car bumper. I originally imagined a dead moose thanks to my obsession with This American Life stories, but then I thought it would make more sense if the dead animal were a dog. So here it is:
dead dog backwards
The sun knits the worms
of your viscera back
together as the flies
unseal their kisses
and buzz away.
The shovel lifts
your rag doll body
back onto the gravel road
where you unfreeze
just as the bumper
pushes the blood
back into your internal organs,
the headlights spark
across your white eyes,
and the boy spots
your dark outline
against the darker night
and smashes his foot
from the break pad
to undo a smiley
face on his cell phone.
Kinda gross, huh? Don't text and drive! :-P
NOTE: No dogs were harmed in the making of this poem.
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Serendipity happens. And it happened to me this past weekend.
Here's the backstory: I went to a writers' conference, one in which literary agent pitches (where the writer pitches his/her novel to the agent, not the other way around) were embedded right into the ticket price. Yay, DFW Writers Conference! And it just so happened that I had won an extra pitch session. Yay, me!
[NOTE: Here's the lowdown on how a book gets published--First, you have to finish your manuscript (unless it's nonfiction, which is another story). Yeah, you do have to finish the book first. That seems like the hard part, right? Well, then, if you want to go the traditional route and get published by a big publisher, you generally have to get a literary agent hooked into your work, so yeah, that's the stage I'm at....and it's harder than you think.]
Unfortunately, the agent I was supposed to pitch to was unable to make it. :-( So they did her pitch sessions using Skype. But then, there were technical difficulties, and I was a writer without an agent to pitch to. Poor me. :-(
Then, in swooped Super Agent to save the day! Swoosh!!!!
Think twice before you judge someone without
getting to know him or her first.
It just so happened that a really cool agent happened to be standing next to me and said that her agency might be interested in my manuscript. I had studied all the agent profiles before attending the conference and knew this particular agent would have subzero interest in my book. I write books for young people--teenagers, more specifically, and she was looking for romance novels. You might call my writing a lot of things, but romantic, it's not. So I explained to her that I definitely did not write romance. That did not deter Super Agent! She told me to come pitch to her anyway. So I did.
Here's the thing you really need to know about this agent--actually, I guess it's more about me and my insecurities than it is about her. Look at this picture of her. Did you look at it? No, really, go and look. You see what I mean? Stunning woman! Gorgeous, sophisticated, got-it-together type of lady--you know, basically everything I am not. So to say I was intimidated is an understatement.
Well, ya'll, let me tell you--Super Agent (aka Tricia Skinner) is really, really cool. She was so enthusiastic about my novel, so nice, so cool, and she was completely approachable. She was easy to talk to, and I was really shocked to find that she was actually interested in my manuscript after I described it to her. At the end of my pitch, she reached out her hand, and we shook, but then I had to go an extra step and give her a big hug because I was so impressed by her awesomeness.
So lesson learned--I am guilty of the sin of judging a book by its cover. I am intimidated by attractive and/or very sophisticated people. I do not consider myself to be terribly sophisticated or attractive. I'm more of a dog-hair-all-over-my pants?-guess-I'll-wear-it-anyway type of person.
Anyways, if you are writing some kind of cool romance novel, you should definitely query Tricia because she's building her client list. If you're not interested in writing but enjoy life lessons, then remember to always think twice before you judge someone without getting to know him or her first.
End note: I doubt Tricia will be interested in my book since it's YA and kinda/sorta anti-romance (It's safer to be skeptical, you know, so you don't get your hopes up. *knock on wood*). But I am so glad I met her! She renewed my hopes.
Be sure to hit the share button below, and thanks for reading!
You don't know what you're doing. You don't belong here. You're not good enough. Look at the people around you with their nice haircuts and their nice clothes, or maybe some of them don't have nice clothes or nice haircuts. But it doesn't matter cause they know what they're doing. It doesn't matter if some of them say stupid things or do really badly in school or get into fights all the time. It doesn't matter if they have been arrested and if you know they are alcoholics or sluts or drug addicts because the truth is that they get it and you don't! Face it. You don't belong here. What are you doing? You are clueless!
Does this voice sound familiar to you? Okay, so maybe the little demon in your head telling you these things isn't as vicious as this one, but maybe part of it does resonate with you. Well, you're not alone. In fact, there's a name for this little voice. It's called the imposter syndrome.
See that handsome guy who gets good grades and is an ace athlete? I bet he suffers from imposter syndrome. See that beautiful girl with straight A's who is the student council president? Yep, I bet she feels like an imposter too.
That little italicized paragraph at the top--well, that's what my demon voice sounds like. It has ranted at me like that through most of my life. See, I was a good student, a really good student (at least in comparison to my peers). I got A's all through high school (except for one B in theater class because I was too shy and scared to be in the school play). I was the valedictorian of my senior class and the captain of my state-winning academic team. I graduated from college summa cum laude (that means I graduated with a 4.0, 4 years of A's in every class). I earned an MA in English and an MEd in library science. So with this substantial, impressive background, you'd think that I would be some sort of super-confident blonde girl who flipped her hair and had beautiful fingernails.
Well, no, that's not me at all. I still have feelings of doubt, and it's usually when I'm surrounded by my peers (i.e. other adults whom I perceive to be more "in the know" than I am). You probably get that feeling, too. In fact, I think most people do.
See that handsome guy who gets good grades and is an ace athlete? I bet he suffers from imposter syndrome. See that beautiful girl with straight A's who is the student council president? Yep, I bet she feels like an imposter too. The truth is that when you look at successful people around you and think they are super-competent, super-confident people, you're probably wrong. They probably feel as much like a schmuck as you do.
So what can you do when you feel like an imposter? I've listed some resources below, and along with that, I'll tell you what's worked for me--serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that regulates your mood--not enough of it, and you suffer from feelings of self worthlessness and depression. Well, I truly think that my brain is screwed up (a lot of writers have this problem), so I've learned to balance my brain chemistry with pharmaceutical remedies. Talk to your doctor about 5HTP, but more importantly, check out these resources below:
"Imposter Syndrome"--Wikipedia gives a guick and dirty understanding of imposter syndrome.
"The Imposter Syndrome"--Caltech gives a more comprehensive guide to imposter syndrome than does Wikipedia.
"Imposter Syndrome"--Geek Feminism Wiki targets women specifically, explaining how imposter syndrome manifests itself and what you can do to minimize its effects.
"21 Proven Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome"--Exactly as the title suggests, the article gives twenty-one tips for overcoming imposter syndrome. It also quotes and refers to famous people who suffer the affliction.
"The Imposter Syndrome: Mastering the Art of Pretending"--The author gives a personal account of her struggle to overcome imposter syndrome in the male-dominated world of computer programming and offers three pieces of advice she wishes she'd known when she was younger.
"Overcome the Imposter Syndrome"--Dr. Valerie Young blogs about imposter syndrome and wants you to buy her book about it. (Yeah, I didn't buy the book either and don't plan to.)
In my next blog piece, I'm going to talk about faking competence, for your own sake, not for anyone else's. In the mean time, remember that even the best of us have had the same self-defeating thoughts you've had. You're not alone.
If you're hip to this jive (translation--if you liked this post), please click the "like" and "tweet" buttons below to spread the word. Thanks, daddy-o. (Okay, so I didn't grow up in the 50's or 60's and don't actually talk this way...just so you know.)
Today I chatted via Twitter with YA & MG author, Royce Scott Buckingham. Below is the complete chat. Click on the link to reveal it. Unfortunately, it's twitter-backwards. You'll have to read from the bottom to the top. Scroll down and keep clicking on "Load More" to reveal the complete convo.
I picked up this book (actually I ordered it through Barnes & Noble) because I had seen the author speak at the Dallas Ft. Worth Writer's Conference. She said her book was about China, and I like China. Plus the reviews were pretty good, so I decided to give it a shot.
Honeyman begins her novel like this:
In Chinese astrology, the Year of the Fire Horse is a bad year for Horses. All of their worst traits--their
tempers, their stubbornness, their selfishness--burn with increased strength. Girls should never be born
in the year of the Fire Horse; they are especially dangerous, bringing tragedy to their families.
Weird idea for Western readers, so I thought I would do my own very superficial research. Here's what I found after a quick Google search:
"People born during the year of the Fire Horse are notorious for being bad luck. People born during a Fire
Horse years are said to be irresponsible, rebellious, and overall bad news.
And for some reason, women are said to be especially dangerous Fire Horses. They supposedly sap their
family’s finances, neglect their children, and drive their father and husband to an early grave."
"[I]t is believed, he (or she) cannot fail to bring misfortune and drama to his own family. His exacerbated
individualism, monstrous egoism, and utter disdain for the virtue of family loyalty and tradition tend to
substantiate such a belief."
The hero of our story, Jade Moon, has the misfortune of being not only a Fire Horse, but even worse, a girl, to boot. She is a constant source of gossip to her snooty neighbor Auntie Wu, a headache for her father's housekeeper Nushi, and a well of shame to her father. The only man with the vaguest interest in marrying her is a brickmaker, and her father, a relatively well-to-do landowner, had hoped to marry her to someone with a bit more respectability. But Jade Moon cannot help it that she is clumsy and loud, that she interrupts other people, that she is opinionated, that she can never seem to do or say the right thing. She is cursed.
Her life's path veers suddenly off course when a stranger shows up named Sterling Promise. He is handsome and urbane, and he carries with him the possibility of something Jade Moon has always dreamed of--a future.
Sterling Promise carries something else with him as well--papers to get into America. The papers belong to Jade Moon's uncle, who disappeared years before, bringing shame to his family. Sterling Promise convinces Jade Moon's father to take her uncle's place so that they can all enter America together. The shock comes not from Sterling Promise's scheme but from the fact that Jade Moon's father chooses to go along with it. Soon they are off to Hong Kong and then on a ship toward California.
Jade Moon prepares herself for her new life on Gold Mountain, China's hope-filled name for America. She learns English, studies the questions she will need to respond to correctly, and dreams of the freedoms she will be granted in America. Even more importantly, it is a chance to begin anew, to make herself into the person she wants to be.
But things do not go as she envisioned when they land at Angel Island, the western immigration center into America. The Americans do not throw the doors open wide for her. Instead, she is stuck in a dormitory with a bevy of other women as they wait weeks and months for entry. Some are turned away because of disease or because they didn't get the answers right. When Jade Moon's father intentionally fouls up his interview, she learns that they are going to be sent back to China, but Sterling Promise gets to stay.
She is furious and determined even more so to get into America. So she comes up with a reckless plan that will allow her passage into America and avenge herself to Sterling Promise, whom she blames for getting her hopes up and not carrying them through.
Somehow the plan works, but as is often the case, America is not the land of milk and honey that she imagined. In fact, it is a dangerous place, and what's worse, Jade Moon is forced to seek refuge with a man who is more menacing than any she's ever encountered.
Two things in this novel stand out to me--the historical context and the language. The author includes a historical note at the end with various details that illustrate the authenticity of the details included. For example, I was a bit skeptical about the use of an Irishman as a bodyguard for a Chinese tong boss, but it turns out that it's based on fact. As someone who enjoys history, I thought the historical note was one of the best parts of the novel.
The other thing I really responded to is the language. It reminded me a lot of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, which I love in part because of its beautiful language. As I was reading I kept thinking that the author had been studying Tan's novel and just trying to imitate the language she uses, but then, in the author's note, I found out that while waiting to adopt her son from China, she "read translated Chinese poetry, reveling in its elegance." So I'm going to hazard a guess that it's the poetry itself that inspired the beautiful language in the novel. Here are some examples of this lovely figurative language:
"The homes . . . were strung like pearls along the river."
"'The sun does not try to water the fields. The moon does not try to light the day.'"
"'Here I can smell the freedom. It drifts in on the wind. The guards carry it in their coats.'"
"I would not have [sic] hide a hundred truths and tell a thousand lies."
It looks like I need to start reading Chinese poetry myself to improve the artistry of my writing! Overall, this is a lovely read both for the language and the historical context.
Word and Book Lover.