Queen Lizzy is Unimpressed

Nic and I linger over breakfast during the autumn, entertained by the squirrels playing, forgetting where their food is, getting fat. We root for them to make it across the street, cheer when they’ve lived to cross another street. It’s the same every year here in the Midwest. This year, however, those little rascals seem to be particularly abundant. And this means that squirrel demise is on the rise: hawks, cars, falls from trees, loose power lines dangling from our utility pole listed as the cause of death in the coroner’s report. More than usual, the dead rodent this year dots my consciousness like spilled ink. Or a spreading pool of blood, as it were.

I once knew someone who, for religious reasons, travelled with a shovel in the trunk of their car, giving roadkill dignified ceremonies for undignified deaths. I was never sure how this person got their PhD—or ever made it to work on time: stopping for every dead animal they drove past. I am fairly certain this person did not grow up in the Midwest, where the accidental slaughter of wild animals is part of the landscape.

I do understand the sentiment, though. So on the several occasions in the past year when a fallen (but completely intact) squirrel lay lifeless in the street in front of my house (victim of a slippery utility pole or its stray electrical current), I have scooped up the rust-and-beige body with my yellow snow shovel and transported it to the wooded areas behind the property. I don’t go so far as to bury the poor bastards; but in my mind, it is more dignified to return the little guys to nature; at least then all the fat that they worked so hard to pack on in the closing days of autumn will not have been for nothing. I mean, isn’t there more dignity in being a snack for a turkey vulture than to be a pavement Jackson Pollock, innards forced out of either end?

The latter seems like a waste (unless you’re a diehard art fan), while the former seems to serve a purpose.

Just the other day, I transported the second little body of the week to the long grasses just beyond the 3-foot fence at the back of the yard, an offering to scavengers or worms. And today I worked from home. My office commands a fantastic view of the park, the capitol building seeming to sit atop the tree line. Backyard tree now with bare limbs, I had a clear view of a well-fed red tail hawk. We’ll call her Queen Lizzy.

In the past couple years of mostly working from home, I have never seen Queen Lizzy in our tree; she lives in the park trees a good 100 yards distant from my office window. She is graceful, soaring high on warm drafts in summer and darting at lower altitudes in winter. So to see Queen Lizzy not 20 yards from me—her white breast contrasted with her brown feathers and the gray day—brought my work to a grinding halt.  

Perched 15 feet up in the tree, she rotated her head 180 degrees each way. Then she spread her wings, quickly alighting on the 3-foot fence below. For several minutes, her head was on a swivel. She could not believe her good fortune, or she didn’t want anyone to see what she was about to do, or was looking at me incredulous at the stupidity of whatever animal she was hunting.

In a flash of brown-red-white, she hopped into the grass below, flew a few more feet and landed. It didn’t seem likely that the squirrel corpse I had laid there the day before would still be around: fox and coyote sometimes saunter through the park and they surely would have caught the scent of an easy meal. So I assumed Queen Lizzy had made a fresh catch of some living thing and was waiting for it to gasp its last under her death talons.

My curiosity got the best of me, as all I could determine from my vantage was that she was just standing over the body of her kill. I figured if she was startled by me, she could take her meal elsewhere in those death talons. I was a mere 15 yards from her when I stopped at the back fence line. She did not fly off immediately. Her dignity had suffered a blow: she was embarrassed for having thought the squirrel was alive, mortified to have been seen with a squirrel she herself had not caught. More than anything, though, she was unimpressed with my offering.

Queen Lizzy flew off, mumbling something about how dining al fresco didn’t mean the meal had to be cold, too.

the semi-urban fox

I’ve never been good at humor; I’m really good at anxiety and staring at walls in brief bouts of depressive catatonia. Getting really good at those things these days.

I’m not good at producing humor. I try, but I’m no good at it. I know it when I hear it and usually when I read it. But I can’t tell jokes very well, and I can’t write funny stuff (just look at my FB posts recently), and I am only beginning to experiment with dark satire (see Stratovirus-19 installments elsewhere on this blog). It’s all that much harder these days to just be plain funny without it all wrapped up in blue-state this and red-state that…Conan O’Brien does it by being humble, self-effacing, and recently/usually steering clear of politics (there’s no shortage of comedians doing politics these days, and that’s important in its own right). This is the time we need humor, as serious and goddamned deadly as these times are.

See? There I go again.

But if I die before I learn to tell a joke and comedy can’t bring people together, maybe there’s another way. What follows is not poetry (I used to be okay at that, but not anymore), but it’s me.

Carbon is not a man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis.

–John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (p. 158)

Got up today long before my snoozing and snoring co-quarantining beings. I crept down to the backyard and communed with the chilly air, the sunrise, and the chirping of thousands of birds. I tried to hear my beloved cardinals and their distinct calls, but I gave up and leaned back, the light growing a paler orange.

I didn’t want to but I knew I had to go on a run. I rousted the pooch and headed down to the trail along the banks of the Des Moines River heading southeast. A couple people lurked in the brush, cast us looks suspicious or otherwise, and we ran on. About a mile in, two doe crossed the path from their drinking spot in the river about 50 yards ahead and bounded into the brush. I spotted them casually watching us as we passed.

Another doe leaped across the path into the brush a bit later and Frank alerted to it. I think back to a couple lifetimes ago (Fall 2016) when four doe passed by the softball field where we were playing early morning fetch in DeKalb, IL. Frank alerted and ran toward them; fortunately, he saw the size difference and didn’t feel the need to pursue them through the opening in the fence. He would have been trampled, if not humiliated by his inability to get the deer to play fetch with him. He could probably catch a squirrel, but he wouldn’t know what to do if he did. Besides, he’d have to drop his tennis ball to really catch the critters, those taunting ubiquitous tree rodents.

We turned around and ran back the way we came, and I scanned the underbrush near the river, looking for the beaver Nic said she saw the other day; or I was looking for the white feral cat that I once saw skulking on a hunt as I ran by; when I passed by ten minutes later, the savvy bastard had a field mouse freshly killed in its mouth. But on this morning’s run, no such drama. No usual redtail hawks gliding overhead. No owls calling to each other from their roosts after a long night of hunting, as if to say, “It was a good night. Whoooo shall we kill tonight? Sleep well, neighbor.”

I wonder how the naïve young rabbits—those cute little guys Nic and I call Jenkins, Jimmy Carrots, and Baby Carrots as if they were the same ones we named all those years ago in DeKalb—I wonder how they or their mothers ever sleep, what with the deadly graceful daytime hawk drafting before diving and the big-eyed nighttime assassin swooping.

“[Dr. David] Drake hopes the urban canid project can encourage city dwellers to engage with the natural environments around them and inform decision-making among wildlife managers. With a rapidly urbanizing global society and increasing pressure on wild places, it behooves humans to better understand the animals that share their spaces…”

–Will Cushman (2019), “Lives of the Urban Coyotes and Foxes

And I wonder if I’ll ever see a wild fox again like the one I saw in DeKalb while oblivious Frank chased his tennis ball across the infield. Red coat ablaze in the early autumn sunrise, trotting confidently from behind the car across the parking lot and into a stand of trees, a fox is the semi-urban Midwest morning.

fox in a parking lot

Photo courtesy of the UW-Madison Urban Canid Project.


Prelude to “Variations on a Plague”: a satirical dystopian farce

“I am a god. I’m not the God, I don’t think.” –Bill Murray, Groundhog Day

A plague is descending on the world…

…as crazy as that sounds, we should make one thing clear: I am not a liar. Quite the opposite, in fact. You will notice—as I chew the fat, compose, consider, or whatever you want to call this—that two intense and mundane mini-epics are materializing simultaneously. It is not an uncommon duality, especially in a time of plague. It is what so many call “madness.” At first, the stories may seem distinct, that there are two…well, you can’t call them protagonists. Two antagonists?  two anti-heroes?  two tragic heroes? two tragic-antiheroes? Whatever it is you want to call the main character, the fact is—and it is the most important fact for you to know—what is happening to him is not the time-travel to parallel universes that it appears to be; it never is. Whether you call it “madness” is up to you.


photo credit: OnTimeSupplies.com


photo credit: Valley Vet Supply

At the risk of seeming too dictatorial about your experience in this space, don’t get caught up with inexactitudes, inconsistencies, non-binaries, or unlikelihoods: in a global plague, impossibilities happen all the time. While we’re at it, don’t get too bent out of shape about the obliviousness, contradictions, and willful ignorances of our person: Julius. And if you’re looking for symbols or metaphors or parallels or motifs, you may find them. But I wouldn’t hold out hope that Julius will also observe these devices. You see, the fellow I am going to tell you about is not too observant. This isn’t to say he’s stupid; it’s just that Julius is not attuned to such things and will therefore never see symbols or metaphors or parallels or motifs. To be more accurate, he does see them, but he will either move quickly past their significance altogether, or he will misinterpret them. Put another way, Julius rarely sees the things that have flashing neon arrows pointing at them; even more rarely does he see things that have peacock feathers coming out of their ass.

But, dear audience, critic, witness, or whatever it is you might call yourself: you yourself will see things you wish Julius would see. This is all we can hope for. But even in this most extraordinary time of imminent global plague, there is little hope for Julius.

As to what or who or where or why I am, well, suffice it to say that I am the only way a story like this can happen.

Now that we have those things cleared up, a plague is descending upon the world.

COVID Easter meditation on life

When I was a kid, Good Friday meant an annual consideration of death, a full day to imagine what it means to be dead, 24 to 48 hours to re-live a famous death that lasted fewer than 72 hours. It took me decades and degrees in literature to better figure the metaphor and its metaphysical ramifications, not to mention its relationship to the Buddhist nirvana and the Hindu re-incarnation. From a spiritual standpoint, death is not permanent. In the science of memory, it’s only as permanent as remembering. Maybe that’s why people of Christian faith perennially observe death and “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?”, and re-birth.


The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying?

                        —Death in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief

Death has rarely touched my life directly. Perhaps that is somewhat a phenomenon, as I am in middle age. Perhaps it’s a middle age crisis that I am so woefully underprepared for this COVID moment. I read dark books; I watch post-apocalyptic shows and movies where death is all around. For the love of all that is wholly desperate, I even wrote a novel in which the narrator loses everyone close to her. Is it masochism that leads me to voluntarily experience these things? Morbid curiosity? Training for the inevitable? Whatever it is, I know nothing will prepare me for each time someone in my life dies. Or what the sky will be saying when Death comes for me.

Even before the pandemic, the topic of death was a frequent visitor to my mind. What would life be like, for example, without my wife? Would I remember her voice? Could I cope with the guilt of not remembering the many different laughs she has?


Now I try like hell to avoid catching my death, isolating and reaching out, checking in on my folks several times a week to make sure they are not risking getting caught. Read the headlines these days and death seems even more imminent, if that’s possible. Yet I don’t know how I’ll experience demise up close, especially when it is “untimely”—a stupid term, as all death seems to have terrible timing. Goddammit! Don’t you know I’m trying to live?

There have been what I guess could be called “timely” deaths in my family. In my teens, I touched foreheads at the home bedside of the patriarch, my legendary grandpa, a day or two before he gave up the ghost. In my twenties, I fed hospital applesauce to my mute grandmother, a complicated woman whose complexities were mostly unknown to me until well after she passed a couple days later. In 2010, after a late night in a Busan singing room celebrating Nic’s birthday, I delivered the sobering news of her grandmother, a woman whose passing seemed untimely because we only met once and she seemed to like me and really love my homemade guacamole.

As of today, death would have touched me even less if it weren’t for social media: people I knew ten, twenty, twenty-five years ago are now dead and, with few exceptions, I would know nothing about those high school classmates’ departures if it weren’t for the internet.

I went to a high school with a young woman who, seven years after we went to the Sadie Hawkins dance together, was found strangled in a DC park; a soccer star who got hit by a car; a young lady who lived down the street and was murdered in the front of the high school; a swimming star who overdosed.

I am, in all truthfulness, attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me…Please trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful…just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

            —Death in Zusak’s The Book Thief

In my twenties I sometimes drank like I was immune to death; that alone probably aborted several spiritual re-births. But when you think you’re a barstool poet-philosopher who cannot be touched by death (who thinks that all the dead binge-drinking brain cells will come back to life; who thinks that brain-dead hangover hours will somehow be given back), you eagerly accept your first bartending job and all the free poison you could want. You got that job because a drinking buddy of yours worked at a bar with a fella who had recently died. Maybe it seemed normal that someone fifteen years older than you could die; it was certainly timely for your privileged 21-year-old self. However, many years after those days of immortality when you find out that a different bartender friend several years your junior drank herself to death, life and its maintenance started to take a different shape. Your ritualistic avoidance masked as self-reward was clearly selfish.

Pandemics have a way of reminding you that you have to now live long enough to capture as much as you can of your own voice in writing. Pandemics get you thinking about posterity, have you getting video of your wife laughing all those ways she does as you regale each other with your shared memories.

558-word quarantine mind-vomit

still feeling my way through this whole quarantine thing.

quarantine mug

there are all the comforts and vices around me but I work from home so I must keep them at bay so I can be productive and creative in the mornings and in this hour of seven o’clock and I keep this 717 project on path for the last 3 days and there is much that can derail it but not really because I don’t sleep in but I have found myself sleeping in more each day and as I usually write here on these dumb fucking pages that I will get better that I will do more that I will not drink as much that I will read more and that I will take this time to focus on me and I have stopped reading the news and listen to only about 15 minutes of NPR in the morning.

I have started to think about what I can do after this insidious monster has passed us by. there will be so many who are without work, it will be time to read The Grapes of Wrath again or perhaps a re-imagining of that tale put in modern times and starting with the end of the quarantine; this idea just came out of this whole mass of words and tiptoeing around self-loathing and self-affirmation; but what else do I have now? a lot more than many, I will admit. it even seems that now I have more in regards to punctuation as this note goes along; there is more form, more function, more purpose after the opening paragraph that is full of nonsense like “full of nothing” and there is Cobain singing in my ears, “I’m anemic royalty” and “distill the life that’s inside of me” and the meaning of lyrics and music changes with such times as does the meaning of literature; in my self-absorbed moments of isolation, I think about how my novel may need some more tweaks because the world has changed as such that there is far more unity than there was in any other time over the last two decades; but I think that is only because all we hear is that people are dying and everyone has a similar chance at death or knowing someone who has died or knowing someone who is at high risk of getting infected and dying; as such, we are on our phones…what the fuck do I know about “we”? I am on my phone to my parents 3 times a week, I call my sibs a couple times a week, just the other day I talked for fifteen minutes with a colleague I haven’t seen in five years; maybe there is something in the recreation she chose in the before-times: camping. how about all of us who take this isolation thing seriously take turns going to national parks with our co-quarantined people for a week to re-set, to commune with nature, to get us away from this nightmare that we cannot wake up from; here’s the thing: there likely wouldn’t be too many people who would take this opportunity, such is the mania about places where other possibly infected people have been.

“Somewhere I have heard this before
In a dream my memory has stored
As defense I’m neutered and spayed
What the hell am I trying to say?”

                                                   (Kurt Cobain, “I’m On A Plain”)

a writing ritual revisited: music

Friday, May 25, 2018 (updated 5/3/2022)

I know. This is a lazy, alliterative title, many of which you may find in the archives on this blog. But I have re-writes and revisions to do. The ideas and notes that started last October are turning into actual sentences and paragraphs that have been missing from the manuscript for years; and I didn’t know how or where to put these words until this week.

As of late, I’ve been corresponding with a handful of people for some historical and musical context in my novel. In discussing music with Donny Olewinski and Dan Knewitz (two 90s grunge nerds I am fortunate to have in my orbit), I shared with them a theory (to be discussed elsewhere on this blog) that I am playing with about the subliminal influence that Alice in Chains’ 1992 EP Sap may have had on some of the images and themes in the novel:

The correspondence with Donny and Dan got me thinking about the role music has played in my writing rituals and how I listen to music while writing.

I listened to Recipe for Hate on the way to work today because in my mind it’s associated with the Friday writing ritual I had in undergrad (namely 1998-1999). I would listen to this album on my Discman Fridays as I walked to Café Matisse to write longhand. Its slashing punk riffs acted collectively as some sort of fight song:

By the time I actually sat down to write, though, I would play these classical and jazz albums, or something very similar:


Why? you might ask. Maybe because the lack of lyrics in these albums allowed me mental space to write a little better. I was, after all, writing in longhand; when I put pen to paper, it was only after several minutes of serious consideration. This isn’t to say that what I put down was perfection. Not by a damn sight. But the music itself allowed for meditation and access to the muse.

In 2000, around the time I got my first reliable laptop computer and started typing my journals, the music ritual changed. And it would entrench itself over the next decade or so. A session of writing was almost always begun with this album:


It is so loud and raw that you may wonder how any writing could come from listening to this. But the music (not necessarily the lyrics) reflected the point of freewrites for me: loud and raw. This isn’t to say that the music itself  is raw, as it seems extremely proficient to me; but it is to say that it evokes some pretty raw emotion and thought. Perfect for freewriting. Besides, it sure as shit drowned out any distracting chatter in the places I wrote. Other albums that came into the mix over time were:

STP Core






Tool Lateralus




Tool’s music was the only of the set listed above that powerfully resonated with me in both musical and lyrical ways. With the exception of how AEnima and Lateralus may have affected the images and themes I was trying to conjure, the hard nature of all this music must have been a way for me to drown out the nagging self-doubt that often leads a person not to even write in the first place. This self-doubt is commonly referred to as “writer’s block.”

I was late to the Chris Cornell scene, but the albums below (and other albums from these bands) entered the rotation ~2007 and helped drown out the self-doubt (and certainly inspired me with their arresting lyrics):





As the book began to take shape in 2004, my writing ritual evolved: I began to divide my time between freewrites and more conscious edits, though the circular-reflexive nature of writing (writing and revising and then revising and writing) made a distinct line quite impossible to delineate. In later stages of drafting a need arose for me to access that meditative quality from my Café Matisse days. Since that was the case, my editing sessions included some of the finest music I could get my hands on:


Most of what I do these days has to do with careful rewrites and edits. I lean a little more toward the meditative side. Maybe that’s because I am getting old. Whatever the case may be, I have discovered a happy medium between the well-worn paths of rule-breaking freewrites and the more meditative qualities of crafting, molding, shaping words and sentences and ideas: a string quartet rendering some of my favorite hard sounds:


the writer’s writer for everyone

Rarely in life do we have time to sit and read a book in one sitting. If you have the time to do so–which I did not–I recommend doing so with George McCormick’s 2015 Inland Empire (IE). It is an artist’s novel that challenges standards and makes bold structural decisions not unlike great jazz. But I believe that any person who trusts that the artist is taking you somewhere meaningful, that the artist is acting on that trust in good faith, then the reader will be rewarded. Not unlike great jazz.

inland empire

Before I go on, it should be known that I was just coming to know John Coltrane’s (JC) music when I met and got to know McCormick a little; it was 1998 and I was bartending in a shitty little bar like the ones McCormick often describes in his stories; I was 22. I was a runt of a literature student at SJSU and a pupa of a writer. McCormick is only a few years older than me, and it was long before he had published his short stories in Salton Sea. Yet I had a sense back then that behind the mirth and mild manners that scotch-soda brings to some people, he was observing, collecting, listening: doing what writers do when they’re not writing. He had a seriousness and commitment of mind needed to be an artist. Not unlike JC.

From the descriptions of JC’s music to those of modern wastelands in IE, McCormick has captured what it is to give meaning to something without forcing it on you. In spite of the bold structural choice–no paragraph breaks (only section and chapter breaks) until pages 113-141 & 170-173 which, at first, make one think density, giving an initial sense of suffocation–, the narrative keeps you reading on, wanting to mull the next image or scene that comes flowing into view almost without notice. And that is exactly the point.

The risky structural choice also forces the reader to constantly ask the question: Why? Why did the writer make this choice?  It’s the same question one must ask of any stylistic/structural choice made in (good) fiction, but the question is asked by the reader about so many other elements of this particular novel: why are we shown snippets of seemingly trivial actions in the desolate Oklahoma-Texas biome: a boy who crawls into a pipe below a daily train that rumbles over his head after receiving its load of undefined gray dust? why are we privy to the narrator’s conversation with a woman and her child while the husband is away doing soldier things? why are we given a scene of a boy with a bunny in the basket on a bike in which he does his tricks and terrifies the little girl who owns the bunny? why do we care about the narrator who took pictures of smog? how (and why) do we end up listening to a Vietnam vet (Pettibone) tell about his experience in Huế City, 1968? The answer to many of these questions may be in the somewhat obscure imagistic reference to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness upon Pettibone’s arrival in South Vietnam. But I’ll leave that for you to determine.

More generally, why does McCormick choose these settings, almost completely devoid of anything human except their abandoned artifacts, their hint at humanity, and a large dose of dust and heat? The narrator himself speaks of such a place: “…the name of the town had been effaced. This was a place that could no longer afford being America and had stopped being America and started being somewhere else.” What is that something else? what does that something else mean? If the land in fact has no discernible meaning, the narrator seems to wonder, why did Custer and his ilk even fight for these places, stealing the land from the natives, slaughtering them in the process, only to create such large amounts of seeming meaninglessness and absurdity…and only trace amounts of humanity?

I will stop here. I feel I have given away too much…but not really. Suffice it to say that I believe JC’s music is reflected in McCormick’s debut novel, as the narrator himself describes JC and his art, there is “a deep reverence…a reverence that was intermixed with anger and agitation…he sounded like a man teaching himself how to speak…repeating, revising…[and then] whatever [he] had been talking about before, now he was screaming it.”

selected incidents from the biography of a novel (updated 11/18/21)

The conception-and-birth story of a novel can be grotesque and all too-revealing. With little more than a college-ruled loose leaf from a well-worn notebook to cover my loins, here I go.

20180209_172122 (1).jpg

Of course, I must start even before the novel was an apple in my eye.

Experiences in my youth that challenged my perspectives–and my delicate, sheltered sensibility–can be counted in a small handful. Prior to 1995, there was a Korean-American best friend and his chain-smoking, constantly-yelling mother; my first attempt at eating “sushi”–a California roll–at a Japanese-American friend’s birthday; and going to an Indian woman’s curry-scented house for tutoring in my arch-nemesis: math. Oh! And there was a rumor that a guy on my high school water polo team was gay. Imagine the scandal!

I was merely a new-formed adult by the time I went to San Jose State to study the literature of dead white guys (my favorite being Steinbeck) and a few dead white women (Edith Wharton anyone?) and a couple dead black men (Ellison and Wright blew my mind). When not grappling with writing academic essays and keeping up with my reading load, I was most often found gazing at my navel. For the first couple years, I didn’t do much to step away from that comfort that was–for all intents and purposes–the life of a privileged white kid who, incidentally, escaped arrest for being an idiot several times. More importantly, my skills learned in Spanish classes quickly devolved into the simple, macho banter I had with my Mexican colleagues at the restaurant. Most “conversations” were laced almost exclusively with jaunty Spanglish insults and curses. ¡Puta madre, Chivo! (I was the motherfucking chivo, a cocky goat with wispy hair on my chin.)

But then, the smattering of exposure got serious and voluminous. There was a solo two-month cross-country train trip done on $2k of saved waiter tips. And there was a bartending job at an underbelly dive bar next door to a Greyhound station and a by-the-hour/by-the-week hotel. It was the stuff that turned my literature study into an applied art.

Before I moved to New York City in 2003 to pursue an M.A. in literature and creative writing, I wrote my first successful short story. It was part of my application to CCNY and tested the bounds of my empathy. In all honesty, I surprised myself by choosing to write from a 1st-person perspective that, in some ways, resembled hers. What I wrote for my CCNY application morphed into what now exists as part three of chapter one of The Emergent.

If my social consciousness was still in a somewhat nascent stage when I arrived in New York City, living for a year in the Puerto Rican Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan opened my eyes. It gave me a sense (however limited) of being an outsider: I may have been the only white person in a half mile radius. This and other perspective shifts I experienced in NYC entwined fortuitously with my courses. And these factors dramatically affected creative choices I made in The Emergent. I studied in depth the work of the South American and Caribbean magic realists; beyond the early slave narratives, I dove deep into the African-American canon.

With the help from my creative thesis advisor, Salar Abdoh, I had 100 pages at the end of grad school (part 1). Then there was a divorce (yep, skipped right past that first marriage incident) and a death. Writing the novel was on hold for a year or so.

I moved to South Korea in 2006 to teach ESL—what else does a Lit major do? I was fortunate to find new experiences and people. My lifestyle also allowed me the solitude needed to write. I got a new routine, re-discovered confidence, and expanded my book ideas over the course of the first two and a half years in the ROK and completed the first draft in early 2009, shortly after Nic bought me for ~300,000 KRW at a bachelor auction. It was Nic who was my first reader, followed closely by important perspectives from Jaclyn Neal, Cara Cassidy, and Jennifer Holmberg. The first few chapters were critiqued by Amanda Champany and Katie Jensen from the Friday workshops in Busan, ROK.

After Nic committed to staying in the ROK with me for at least another year, it was her turn. I became her GRE coach in writing (though I don’t really think she needed me for anything more than solidarity; mi mujer inteligente can write, too) and editor for grad school application cover letters.

After a three-month barebones tour of SE Asia and Nepal in 2011, service to the careers of mine and Nic’s had to take precedence. (Spouses gotta eat.) And breathing life into this thing seemed to be slipping away. Sometimes struggling to suppress my disenchantment,  I worked three jobs (teaching ESL to international students saved my sanity in some ways, drove me batty in other ways), cooked, cleaned(?), went back to grad school for TESL, got a promotion, and last year moved across the country for Nic’s VA internship. Through all of it, I was searching for a way to get back to the novel. All I could do, though, was bide my time in a state of blind faith by reading as widely as I could and writing (sometimes online) about intercultural and social issues.

I currently live happily with Nic, our nutty dog, and the curse of (self-) critical thought. Yes, happily.

So what better time to bring The Emergent into the world?

exploding genre boxes

For my novel proposal, I have written about the audience I am writing for. When I was writing the book, I was blissfully unaware of how genres were proliferating in the modern publishing industry. For the sake of the art, it was freeing. For the sake of marketing, a little more research was needed.


The “New Adult” genre is what I came across. But I have been much more influenced by classic bildungsroman literature like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hesse’s Demian, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, and Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. But the publishing industry needed to capitalize on the emergence of a subset of modern readers and writers concerned with the emotionally-fraught time of new found independence.

So, here’s what I have written for the “Audience” section of my proposal:

While there are elements of fiction in the novel that adult readers of all ages will appreciate, the age groups (19-45) defined as my target audiences are Millennials and X-ers. These generations are defined, respectively, as the first generation never to know life without digital technology, and the generation that were in or approaching early adulthood at the dawn of the internet era.

This novel is geared toward anyone who wants to explore modern identity: perhaps it all too-determined by binary coding and algorithms. Was there a certain hapless art that went along with self-discovery that Millennials will never know? How did X-ers deal with those formative years just after high school?

In some ways, my novel most resembles “New Adult” (NA), the 19-26 year-old demographic genre that emerged in 2009. It is a genre characterized by “first-person narration, dramatic…plots, and characters with ‘issues’ ranging from history of abuse, anger management issues, and troubled family lives.” These characteristics are certainly present in my book. However, the NA label is troubling in that it is often linked to Romance and Chick Lit; the sexual content and playful tone of those genres are simply not the focal point of my book.

It is worth noting that several successful contemporary books (e.g. Ko’s The Leavers and Bulawayo’s We Need New Names) were simply designated as “Fiction” even though they share many characteristics of NA. There may be an advantage to simultaneously marketing a book in two different genres. But I believe my novel would be most appropriate if sold as “Fiction.”


the books that bring us together

Thanks for the comments last week, all. It was yet another reminder that literature is a great unifier. The shared experience is so important for me as a way to connect that my reading list is, in part, cued and re-cued as people talk to me about favorite writers and books–novels, histories, biographies. (Sadly, however, I will likely be left out of Tolkien and Rowling discussions forever. It may be the best of fantasy fiction, but it ain’t for me. If you knew you didn’t like peanut butter and mayo sandwiches without ever tasting one, would you change your mind if it was all-natural peanut butter and homemade mayo?)

I received several hearty endorsements after last week’s post. Though I have confidence in my ability to write–and have been grilled and had my writing dissected more than a few times in the writing workshops of grad school–, on my shoulder sits the constant nagging of Doubt. So against that little devil, the backing from readers is a great fortitude.

Some people also reminded me of books I liked in my youth that I neglected to mention. What about Hatchet? How about My Side of the Mountain? Or the Narnia books? (I only read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but as an undergrad studied C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces; it, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, were key in helping me understand the universality of mythic themes in literature from everywhere on Earth).

Joseph Campbell

A fellow stepchild of the DeKalb, IL corn (Erin Sherrill) told me that she filled her journals with drawings instead of writing and got her grade docked. I think that’s a damned travesty, especially if it still engaged her reactions to reading and/or the world around her.