Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear (a short story)

My little nothing-special car careens around a curve; I’m going too fast, the music is blaring, I’m screeching at top volume, only a third of my mind engaged on the act of driving. I am escaping – not once but twice – escaping my location, and escaping my mind. On days like this, when the sun is bright, peering into every crack and pore, illuminating the dust and hidden things, I feel I might crack open like an egg, my contents fried on the hot leather seats. It’s not wholly bad – light is disinfecting, they say.

To drive is to fly, fly away from that possibility, to run from the past. I drive and I drive and I drive, and I don’t mind the endless errands, the to-and-fro, I don’t mind sitting with my legs cramped in this poor woman’s car for the entire day if necessary, because I am running, and it’s easier to run if you can drive. To drive is to fly; the wheels our limited human version of wings. On wheels is the only place I can soar.

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The warm crackle of the bonfire is a constant in my ears as I sit, huddled into myself, egg-shaped, the hard metal chair cutting into my back, as I watch you over the flames. You sit with a guitar in your arms, eyes closed, crooning, and all are crooning with you. A gathering of bohemian souls, awash with the light of the fire in its cleansing glory. Somehow, inexplicably, I am privy to this moment and I feel like a voyeur. I, sitting apart, a watcher, a wallflower. I get away with it because I have a pen, because they assume (secretly hope) I will document them.

I was never much of a singer.

But this is a lie I tell myself.

My reed-thin voice is of its own design; it is a mechanism, a thin egg-shell to enclose the tender yolk within. I cannot disguise pain from my voice. No matter the monotone I cultivate, it comes out in a wavering ribbon of unbeaten egg white, flowing and trembling through the cracks, giving me away. This happens in my normal speaking voice, when I speak of things beyond the comfort zone, when I zoom past the barriers I’ve erected for this purpose, and I’ve learned to talk with my hands to keep it at bay. When I sing, my hands are rendered mute and the voice emerges. The shell cracks and out I seep, and all is laid bare, and you can see, and you can see, and you can see. I cannot bear to be seen.

Not unless it’s through a filter.

But they are all singing, these denim-clad souls with their craft beer, cold and dripping with organic dew, with their sparkling eyes and clear skin, signs of health, of wealth; I long to be part of it, I want to be a bohemian, too, an artist, some inspired thing, mysterious and admired, part of the club. The kind of woman with free-flowing hair who oozes sensuality, who bakes homemade bread and strums out tunes on a sticker-covered guitar, barefoot, in flowing skirts. Some modern-day hipster Venus. Instead of this cracked, poor, pitiful excuse of a whatever. A woman who barely looks the part, who is inspired by everyone yet inspires no-one. What good is the pen I hold, if it only leaks ink on my bitter hands? I cannot tell a story if I don’t join a story.

This is utter nonsense, but I’ve learned to torture myself in his stead.

And so, defiant, I raise my voice, just a little, just enough to blend in but not stand out on its own. I sing along with your words to salt the wound and chase the bitterness.

And they hurt. Your words are beautiful but they hurt. Tender, swelling with perfect pitch, warbling intensity, warm and smooth like honey, but. Just when you give yourself to it, let yourself go, it bites.

I picture you as a little boy, doe-eyed and innocent, slightly crooked smile, child’s brows arched in curiosity. I picture you in your room, alone, I picture your scrunched face as it trains itself not to cry, but to sing instead. To write. To channel yourself into art, the way countless others have done before. To dance and writhe and scream it all away – you shaman, you charmer, you beautiful disaster, you punk-rock god-boy – you taught yourself to become art, the canvas and the paint – how do you do that, and will you teach me?

You’re so beautiful it’s hard to look at you, but it’s hard not to, too.

Will you teach me?

Your eyes open and meet mine. Blue on black. For whatever color my eyes are, they are black.

You hear me.

We sing together for a beat, a line, the longest I can go before I shut my mouth and look away. Your eyes don’t blink, and they don’t search. They hold a gaze that is full of a million shared understandings, you have heard the meek that cloaks the bleak, the stuff I’m made of, and the pit between my stomach and my heart clenches and aches and then I’m standing up, unfurling from the chair like a fern frond in the sun, and I’m running, running, running, with the crackle of the bonfire now my past, only the smoke trailing behind me.

It’s like a movie cliché. They always stroke their jaw thoughtfully (is this considered manly? Does it give a ‘man’s man’ a touch of intelligence, of sophistication?), and its always a big, strong, square chin. He strokes his square chin thoughtfully. The black hairs on his knuckles shine in the light overhead. That same square chin has a bit of stubble, a five-o-clock shadow, which makes him distinguished. Like the ‘before’ in a bad commercial for razors. He strokes and strokes his chin, cradles it gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, his chin a treasure in his hand, delicate. It is a moment that seems to repeat on a loop, the record caught, the tape jammed, the car stalled.

The egg cracked.

A fluid movement, the black-haired knuckles unfurling into a fist, moving from chin through air and to face, a quick, serpentine action. It is graceful, and I hate him for that. I hate his choreographed violence, how perfect it is.

The same hand that caresses his chin so thoughtfully smashes into my face without much thought at all.

Gasping, I let myself in through the sliding-glass door, imagining it shattering around my head, the crunch of glass raining down into my hair like shimmering glitter, baptizing me with a million tiny pin-prick cuts, the blood, running from my face in an elegant stream, a beautiful stream, mainly from my eyes, like the devil’s eyeliner.

I imagine so many things breaking; I suppose its good I don’t have that form of ESP where I can make things happen. So many broken shards of glass; they would be everywhere.

I dart down the hall; I don’t know this place well. I stumble into a bathroom. Splash water on my face. Look in the mirror, curse my appearance. Curse the lines around my mouth, the splotchiness of my forehead, my listless stupid fucking hair.

I am so embarrassed. I let myself be seen, and now I will disappear.

A gentle knock on the door. My chest freezes. My mouth forms an “O.” The shower curtain is mildewed and stiff, but I consider wrapping up in it, like a burial shroud.

Sometime later I emerge from the bathroom, confident that whomever knocked went to piss outside and I’m safe and alone. I yearn for the safety of my car. I haven’t drank much, I can flee now, I can fly away. Blast the music so loud my windows rattle, and scream along until my throat is raw. Escape.

But you’re in the hall. You followed me. You waited.

You don’t ask if I’m okay. You don’t smile or nod. You don’t say sorry or even wait for me to speak, to mutter an ‘excuse me’ – instead you reach for me, pull me close, and we hit the wall in a tumble of sweat and smoke and mouths, and I can’t understand why you’re kissing me or why I am kissing back. Your mouth is soft as a pillow but it moves rough. We’re a jumble of fucked up bodies on somebody’s hall carpet, you pressing me against the wall with the length of your body, small and compact though it is, and even though I am taller than you, you’re pushing me upwards, up, up, until I feel my head will hit the ceiling, and your mouth is like fire and I’m melting forever.

I’m hardboiled, bobbing in the water, and I’m solid and I’m seen and I’m –

The pain in me sees the pain in you.

Is there pain yoga? Where people go to do corpse pose and sun salutation and look at each other and cry? Can we stand stock-still, ramrod straight, like trees, and let the pain pour from our veins and down our legs, sticky-sweet and warm? Can we be sap together?

We went on so many drives, he and I. We toured the country. We rode, sometimes with the radio off, sometimes on – and one time I read him poetry as he drove – T.S. Eliot, my favorite – something I always wanted to do, fancying myself a romantic, a literary sap, and now that’s ruined because I did it with him, and he was bad, and I can’t very well do it again – but no matter the background noise, we always rode in silence.

We always rode in silence.

To this day, in the pit between my stomach and my chest, behind the ache, there is silence.

You peel me off the floor.

I’m out of breath, and you are too, but you are beautiful and I am not, all red-faced and leaking air like an overfilled balloon.

You’ve not said a word. You stare at me, your eyes full of…full of me, knowing me, understanding me. I quake. How is it you’ve read all of me when I haven’t written a word? You haven’t seen one single page.

How is it you are everything and nothing all at once?

Will you teach me?

He hated coats. He wore shorts and t-shirts and ugly sandals all year-round, even in the snow. How could a man so ludicrous, so unkempt, manage to break me so utterly. I hate myself for a lot of things but that’s the one I hate the most. The least I could have done is fall for a man who was gorgeous enough to get away with it.

What kind of stinking-shit thought is that, you utter betrayal of womanhood. What kind of backwards, stupid thought is that.

And yet-

Across the bonfire I saw your well-made light brown corduroy jacket, cloaking your arms as you in turn cloaked your guitar, and the corduroy matched the wood and the wood matched your shining hair, and everything about you was so warm and wholesome and alive and real, and I knew if I touched that corduroy of your jacket it would be sturdy but slightly soft, giving way under my fingers and would remind me of my teenage years, of corduroy pants, of a time gone by, of grunge, of youth, and god, I just want to cry thinking about that beautiful jacket and your beautiful mouth. Thinking about the kind of man who picks out a well-made corduroy jacket or a nice pair of soft boots to wear with his ripped jeans, instead of a guy who wears sandals in the winter and strokes his square chin with his hairy-knuckled, beating hands.

I never drove when we were together. It was a skill I acquired – forced of myself – much later. I always let him navigate, man the wheel.

And to this end, there were many nights and days of white-knuckling the ‘oh-shit-handle’ as he sped around mountains, squalled tires in the street, stopped in dark and still places to turn to me with eyes so devious they might have been yellow.

He quite literally drove me…

…well, to the brink. Right to the end of the road and then he stopped and, to our shared surprise, I got out.

Now I’m behind the wheel.

I listen to my music loud.

The pit between my stomach and my chest aches and seems to groan, but I turn the music up louder. I won’t listen to it.

My road is long and weary, but I’ve got plenty of gas in the tank.

Here, in my little car, I am as heard as I want to be. Here I am seen, too, by the sun that streams through my windshield, lighting up my face, warming my thighs.

Here I am the driver and god is my co-pilot, ha ha.

Here I leave you in the dust.

You extend a hand, help me stumble up to my feet. Your mouth twists into a crooked smile, beautiful. Your teeth are pointy and white and I want you to bite me. I don’t say that, though. I don’t say anything. Your blue eyes sparkle and shimmer along with the rest of you.

Unable to control the longing, I reach out and brush a finger over your coat. The corduroy is pliable, soft, but slightly rough to the touch. Just as I imagined. It’s an everyman coat, nothing special, but oh how you wear it. I know it must smell like you. Perhaps there are a few stray hairs clinging to the back of the fabric. Perhaps the inside is emblazoned with your name, in sharpie. Perhaps the pockets are filled with lighters, cigarettes, an errant phone number or two. Your car keys.

You’re still smiling. You lift up your arms, shrug out of the coat. And you wrap it around my shoulders. It slides over me like a hug; envelopes me and my heart fills with sweetness. I open my mouth to protest, but you shush me with a finger on my lips.

You lean forward, and I smell your sweetness, like wine, with a faint hint of smoke clinging to your hair. You plant a gentle kiss on my lips where your finger still rests and then you, your finger and your lips are gone down the hall. I hear a fragment of a tune as you hum your way out into the night. I yearn to go after you, to be a part of it, but it’s not for me.

You are one full person, and it has taken you time to get to that wholeness.

I’m not there yet, but I will be, maybe.

I get in my car.

Hold an egg in your hand. Feel the firm but delicate shell on your palm, cool. The oblong, satisfying slope of the oval. Oeuf. Huevos. The egg is a weird thing, so delicate on the outside, so oddly-made, but inside lies the universe.

What is your desire?

How do I presume?

Do you yearn to crack it under your fingers, exert pressure, feel your strength as the shell gives away in your fingers, splinters, pieces of it sticking to your skin, as the blob tumbles out, plops on the floor without grace? Or do you nurture it, cradle it, place it gingerly back in its crate, because it exists in its own space and purpose and unless its breakfast time, there’s no need for violence?

Breakfast was never my thing.

Sometimes I dream that I’m driving away from him. We’re in some random parking lot, and he’s standing there, and he’s changed, gone are the shorts and sandals; now it’s a sleek black suit, and his hair is slicked back, and he looks so good, so very good, sleek and handsome and almost oiled, but it’s too late, too late, far too late. He’s changed but so have I, and I’m one less egg in your carton, my dear.

I crank the car, and I turn on my music, loud. The heavy wind of our shared city, soon to be my ex-city, whips through the open windows, blows my hair around my face like a tangled halo. I buckle up, because I now care about my safety. I lean the seat back, cocky, look at him from the rearviewmirror. My bitter hand opens, the trim fingers extend, and the middle one grazes across his cheek in my mind, upward, upward, upward, flying like the most triumphant bird you’ve ever seen.

And then I’m gone down the road, leaving him in a cloud of dust that will never remove from his clothes. He will see me every time he tries to wash.

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I took a drive today

time to emancipate

I guess it was the beatings made me wise

but i’m not about to give thanks, or apologize

…saw things so much clearer…

once you were in my rearviewmirror.

-Pearl Jam

I put millions of miles under my heels

and still too close to you I feel…

I am not your rolling wheels

I am the highway

I am not your carpet ride

I am the sky.

-Audioslave

Copyright 2018 Lillah Lawson
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Becoming a Rock

This is self-indulgent. It’s okay – I’m a writer.

I’m walking. Down my wooded driveway in the crisp winter afternoon, earbuds in ears, hoodie pulled down low, hands in pockets. I am listening with my whole body. Each movement in step with a tune only I can hear. The footfall on the rocks, the slope of my neck, the way my ponytail whips in time, all a coordinated effort. The man singing in my ear hits fever pitch – a wailing, high falsetto that keens and spirals and splits the atom with its intensity, then it wavers, falling from the crescendo like trickling water in my eardrum.

I keep walking, but the girl deep down inside me fights the urge to slink to the ground, slithering and boneless, and curl up into a fetal ball. It’s a mental image I have often, and have never told anyone about. When I listen to music that really hits me there, I want to slide soundlessly to the ground and become a rock.

It’s ok. You can say it. Weird.

I’ve tried to explain. But how can you explain something as bright and as wordless as the stars?

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Even as an itty bitty, I knew music (and Joan Jett) was everything.

There are so many avenues I could take to try and explain a thought process without a rhyme or reason. I could talk about synesthesia, the autism spectrum, anxiety and depression, that uneasy marriage – I could talk about the indulgent melancholy of being a writer, the ebb and the flow, the dark and the light, the way we flirt with the abyss, the way we crave distraction, always distraction –

So many words, phrases, paragraphs – stories inside of us, all. To write is to let out tales, a trickle at a time, bit by bit, a stream made of consciousness. To hold a book in your hand that you’ve written is the penultimate accomplishment, or so it feels, but if I can tell you this secret: no matter how many poems, stories, or books you write, you’re still full of letters. They trickle out of your ears, your eyes, your fingertips. Every person is a story waiting to be told, a page to be turned – every sound is waiting to be described – every feeling is in need of a narrator.

And while it is a blessing, this over-abundance of letters – just like any lake, if you swim too long in deep waters, you will tire and drown. You will need your life support. Music has always been mine, since the toddler years, when I sat in front of the stereo with my Dad’s too-big headphones dwarfing my face.

And indeed there will be time to wonder “do I dare?” 

I measure out my time in intervals of obsessions rather than ages. My memory grows fuzzy with so much of the past. I don’t remember much of 23, but I can tell you exactly where I was in Auckland when I first heard Salmonella Dub (riding in a black sedan with a guy named Bernard who was telling jokes while navigating down the hill in Parnell, headed towards Stanley Street, the sun glinting off the water ahead; like diamonds) and exactly how I felt. Every time I hear a pacific beat I think of my heart, too big for my chest. I think of the way the light is different there; I think of Bernard’s blond hair; I think of the smell of fish and chips.

Music is photographic, staining my insides like ink, an invisible tattoo to match the visible ones, of which I always crave another.

The other day, my friend Jennifer told me that every time she hears “I am the Highway” by Audioslave, she pictures me walking along listening to it, because I wrote about my experience with that song and it stuck with her. I was blown away, not only that she had read my random muttering praise, but that she had retained it, remembered it, associated it with me. I was touched.

From time to time I take to these digital pages and wax poetic about some artist who means everything to me in a way that must, to an outsider, seem like obsessive keening. How can I explain? How should I presume? Do you know I rein myself in? For my life is measured by muses, and god, have there been many. My current one, a tall, troubled drink of water with haunted eyes and vampiric trill, inspired an entire novel (Thanks, Pete).

I am in love with telling stories. So too do I love the storyteller. The sadder the story, the more I love you. Perhaps a storyteller that writes gothic odes to the moon and Bacchus, fairy tales about wolves, about druids, liturgies to the autumn months, when leaves are dying yet at their most beautiful. Who writes odes to cover pain, who has bitten off the matter with a smile. 

I was ruminating on this (read: navel gazing – us writers have it down to a science) obsessive nature to my aforementioned friend Jennifer – who I should note, is an absolute gem; a patient, lovely, sincere person who approaches friendship with her whole heart – in a stream of text messages. I’d been texting back and forth with her all day, sharing snippets of information I’d read about Peter Steele whilst falling down my latest wormhole. Because I do that, you know, I fall willingly in with my whole heart, my whole body, my whole soul, and then I bother the shit out of everyone. I have always been this way, but sometimes, I feel just a little bit weird about it. About me. I do not think they will sing to me.

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I text Jen, “Other than David Bowie, I’ve never felt a kinship with an artist this strong.” I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, to feel so much. She responds that it is my compassion and empathetic nature that brings me down this road, that I feel such a kinship because I’ve felt the same pain, and I recognize the darkness. “It’s like a mutual empathy experience that he just doesn’t know he’s a part of.”

Those words hit such a chord, made such perfect sense to me, that I had to write it down. It’s no surprise that my friend Jen is an empath, too – how else would she have such perfect insight, and know exactly what to say?

I have known them all already known them all. Songs and words and notes and letters, reaching out from the ether, across time to a space where sincerity is allowed, and distance immaterial.

An artist whose sardonic meloncholy flirts with the room, words flying on gossamer wings, voice deep like good red wine. That tall drink of water who wears a mask to cover the mask that is also a mask; you need surgical tools to pry beneath, to see. These deadrockstars and their masks – they stay on even after their faces have returned to earth – thankfully, the voice makes it way through, and endures. The words shine a light in the dark, guide our way to shore, at least till human voices wake us, and we drown. 

The vulnerable, anxious empath in me reaches out and finds something to clasp. Something I recognize. Something that if it were not blinded by death and circumstance, might love me back, would understand.

It is the soundtrack to this story that is my true self, the one most people don’t see. The me singing loudly in the car, the me making footfalls down the path, the me with eyes open to a September sun or a wolf moon, depending on the day. Slithering to the ground, becoming a rock.

“Peter” means “Rock” 😉 
Poem sampled: The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruf(rock) (I had to) (Sorry)

 

Without Further Ado…

…I am very proud to announce that I am joining the team at Regal House Publishing, and they will be publishing my novel, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree in early 2019!

(I could have drawn that out a little more and been all suspenseful, but I’m wordy enough as it is and I’m much too excited for all that nonsense.)

Lillah Lawson @ Regal House Publishing

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I’m very excited to be working with Jaynie and the rest of the team at Regal. They have helped me realize a life-long dream. I’m very proud of my work on both Aroha and Ka Kite, and I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world, but this feels like a culmination of my efforts and I couldn’t be more pleased. There’s something extra special about having your work chosen and put out there, helped along by lovers of the written word who have honed in their craft. I feel so lucky that Regal House has chosen to work with me.

Check out their website to peruse the amazing authors that make up their team and look at the beautiful books on offer! I can honestly say that I want to read them all (and probably will because you guys know I read like it’s my job, which I guess it kind of is). There you will also find their blog, by which they update regularly on their various events, projects and literary works coming down the line.

As always, you can keep up with me and my various doings on Twitter (@LillahLawson), Facebook (facebook.com/LillahLawson) and right here on this blog. I’ll be sure to update everyone as I go!

I’ll stop gushing now, but I’m just over the moon with this news, and I hope you’ll join me on my journey! I can’t wait for you to read Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree!

NaNo, Monarchs and Dead Rock Stars (updates and excerpts)

Hello darkness, my old friend.

That’s only partially accurate. I’m actually coming off an upswing of a weekend, and am still feeling rather warm and fuzzy. I hosted my first Friendsgiving, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years but never did, because it seemed so friggin’ daunting to make all that food and host a bunch of people, and anxiety is my ever constant companion. But somehow, despite my being there, it went well! I say any gathering with wine, tea, coffee and multiple flavors of pie is a success. My friend, who had never cooked a turkey before, just went all in and decided to deep fry a 20 lb bird on my porch (I am a vegetarian and hid my face in a pile of sweet potatoes), and nothing was blown up! Given  how I attract disasters like a magnet coated in hot glue, I consider the First Annual Friendsgiving officially a success.

And – I won #NaNoWriMo2017 yesterday! The book needs a lot – I mean A LOT A LOT – of revisions, because I am a pantser who types so fast that I make lots of typos, and I went hard on this one, just writing off the cuff, on autopilot, kind of a stream of consciousness thing, and I literally have no idea what the hell I wrote. I mean, I have a general idea, but…I went off the rails. And you know, after last year’s tome of a novel that I spent an entire year researching, with its heavy, historical subject matter and grim plot, I’m okay with that.

For those following at home, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree is the book I’ve spent the past two years of my life researching and writing, and the past six months revising to the point that I actually thought I might end up in the Milledgeville Asylum myself from the stress (it’s actually no longer operational, thank god, but you get my point). In between bouts of fervent, rapid editing and chugging enough tea and antacids to kill a large horse, I’ve been pitching like crazy. And let me tell y’all: pitching is the most soul sucking, horrible experience in the world. While you’re assembling agents and publishing houses, it’s fun! You’ve got your cute little spreadsheet and your list of possibilities, and with every website and agent bio you read, you feel more and more confident that these people are going to love your book! How could they not? You’re a match made in heaven! And then you send 100 queries over the course of a few months and you get 60 rejections in in your inbox, and you realize that somewhere along the way your soul seized up and died in a grease fire of self-loathing.

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Milledgeville Asylum/Central State Hospital, 2017

Did I mention I hate querying?

I’ve spoken at length about how I feel on self-publishing, and I still feel very strongly that it’s a viable option and spit in the eye of any book industry snob who tells me otherwise (fight me), but Monarchs is not a book that I ever meant to be self-published. Hence the soul-crushing querying, and participation in pitch contests, and generally wishing I had picked a different career.

Imposter syndrome notwithstanding, I just woke up one day and was like…”This book is going to make it. Somehow, I just feel that it is.” I still feel that way. There have been some signs. So I’m just sitting over here with my appendages crossed, because I put my everything into this book and I want it to be out there, living and breathing in the world. I hope to be able to update you all with good news very soon!

But for now, back to reality, and this year’s writing effort: .deadrockstar. This year’s effort is a lighthearted, dark and campy romp that fits firmly into the supernatural fantasy category. I have never, ever written in this genre. I am so out of my element, but damn, it was fun.

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I need a goth translation of ‘how you durrin’?’

I’m still two chapters away from the conclusion, and it needs an ass ton of editing, so I really have no reason to share an excerpt with you all. It’ll be light years before it’s a book I’m shopping around, and therefore doesn’t need promoting. But hey, it’s Tuesday and my book is a cute little campy goth nugget and it was just Halloween and we all know that October and November are Peter Steele Month(s) and he was the main muse for the protagonist in this novel and I could go on, but let’s just say I WANT TO SHARE A BIT WITH YOU, and if you’ve read this far you deserve it, so here we go:


Continue reading

#PimpMyBio for #PitchWars 2017

This is my first time participating in #pitchwars. I’ve done #pitmad, though, and I always, ALWAYS do #NaNoWriMo. I always say to myself, “You are too busy – do not add another contest, bloghop or open-entry period into the fray!” And then I’m up to my elbows in queries and synopses and forgetting to wear matching socks and leaving the oven on and have spilled coffee down my shirt and I wonder how I got here.

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HAY!

I have already submitted to #pitchwars, so I’m just (im)patiently waiting to hear if I’m going to get a shiny new mentor to guide me through the realm of the amateur and into the white-light of professional writer-dom. Nah, I’m not at all nervous, anxiously awaiting my fate, or anything like that. I’m chill af.

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And now it’s time to #pimpmybio!

I’m a thirtysomething quirky nerd who lives in the boonies of north Georgia, where I was born and raised. Talk about your culture shock: when I was 21 I moved to New Zealand on a bit of a whim and ended up going to University there and living in the land of the long white cloud for 5 years. Needless to say, I’m a little bit country and a little bit antipodean rock and roll.

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Not saying I’m HER or anything but that resting bitch face looks awfully familiar. I’m just missing one Eric Northman.

Things about me you might find interesting:

  • All my animals are named after literary characters
  • I have thirty five pairs of Converse shoes, and no, I don’t need help for my hoarding problem, thank you
  • I am descended from Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • But I’m also descended from some guy named Etheldred who discovered gold and then gambled it all away in like a year, so
  • I have a David Bowie tattoo
  • I have synesthesia  
  • I still wear Love’s Baby Soft

 

And onto the writing:

I’ve written two novels, both of which are available via Amazon. Check ’em out! In addition to fiction, I write poetry and non-fiction, and I’ve also been known to fire off a few salty emails to lucky recipients from time to time. I’ve been writing since I was literally 8 years old, when I won a competition at school. I wrote about a Princess who didn’t need no damn Prince Charming, and saves herself. It was published in the local newspaper and I thought my short-lived fame tasted better than double-stuff Oreos. I’ve been chasing the dream ever since. I’ve been writing professionally (as in boring things like marketing copy, transcription and SEO posts) on and off for about ten years. My day-job is at a nutritional supplement company, which is actually more interesting than it sounds.

In addition to writing, I love cycling, genealogy, playing bass, baking, hiking, and sewing pillows. No, really. I watch way too much Golden Girls, I’m always trying to find different ways to make nachos, and I’m obsessed with dead rock stars. I have an eight-year old brilliant kid and my partner is a talented musician.

I gotta be honest – my fiction is ALL over the place. I write women’s fiction, historical fiction, the odd bit of fantasy, some comedy, and even a little bit of erotica from time to time. I have this big ol’ chip on my shoulder when it comes to authority (blame it on being the only-child of two Tauruses) and I really just loathe rules. I love so many genres, so I write in all of them. Historical fiction is what really gets my gears pumping, because all that glorious, glorious research! Immersing yourself in another time and space is so rewarding; finding the lessons that the past seeks to teach you. Which brings me to the.book.

And now onto what you’ve all been waiting for, the novel I submitted to #pitchwars:

Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree is set in the late 1920s/early 1930s, just at the start of the Great Depression, in Georgia. The story follows a simple cotton farmer named O.T. Lawrence, who just before Black Tuesday, loses everything he holds dear. Crazed and sinking into the bottle, he embarks on an odd journey – to find a young woman he hasn’t seen since he was 16 years old, the mysterious Sivvy Hargrove, who has been tucked away in the Milledgeville Asylum for over a decade.

I did extensive research for this novel, visiting the asylum on more than one occasion (an ancestor of mine was a patient there for two decades), as well as heavy research into the time period, politics and cultural atmosphere of the time.

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The novel is hist fic, more specifically, southern gothic. The asylum in Milledgeville is the quintessential southern gothic locale, after all (and the major inspiration for Flannery O’Connor!). It also explores themes central to the time period – racism, sexism and abuse, poverty, class warfare, and stigma against mental illness. It isn’t heavy-handed in its politics, but it does touch upon these issues. I’ve set out to write memorable characters, featuring especially strong women, and a couple of whom are laugh-out-loud funny.

This book has been a journey, a real work of heart. I interviewed my grandparents for this novel. I traveled to the mountains. I read all the Erskine Caldwell I could get my hands on. I just love every aspect of it. I’m so proud the story came through me.

And there you have it, folks. That’s me in a nutshell. Oh, and if you’d like to take a journey through my deranged brain, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@LillahLawson), Facebook (facebook.com/LillahLawson) or right here on this blog, which I update SUPER regularly (sike).

Kia Ora, till next time,
Lillah

Summer of Love (Personal Issues)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been querying my book. For me, querying usually follows four phases:

Phase 1: OMG my book is finished! I wrote a BOOK! And now I’m going to put it OUT THERE! Everything is going to be amazing. I shall get an awesome book deal and become established author and finally my dreams will be realized! I love everyone! Query all the agents!

Phase 2: My eyes are crossing from this long-ass list of agents, all of whom have totally different and very specific criteria, but I’ll just finish this list and then I’ll go to sleep. I deserve it. It will pay off. Query all the agents!

Phase 3: So I have ten rejection letters. At least they are all polite. Most aren’t even form letters. That’s progress, right? Don’t give up! Query all the agents!

Phase 4: * maniacal laughter * there are no more agents in the universe, I’ve queried them all. What even are words. What even is my book. Eat all the chocolate.

Because I am lightning-fast at everything I do and have ZERO chill, usually it only takes two weeks (if that) to go through all four phases and then its time for a break before I start over. I am nothing if not diligent (read: overzealous).

Pitching has been easier for me this time, though, because I knew what to expect going in. I’ve done this before, have walked the tightrope of rejection and come out on the other side, relatively sane. Pitching is a marathon, not a sprint. So they tell me.

Pitching time comes at a good time for me. Most normal people have their “revamp” phase sometime around the new year, or maybe the Spring, but since I’m a weirdo I always pick the beginning of summer to suddenly decide to change my life. It is usually around the time my kid gets out of school that I’m latching on to some new interest or deciding to embark on some crazy lifestyle change (what, you say this has to do with the passage of time, watching my kid grow up and feeling the hand of mortality curl itself around my neck? No, it can’t be!). This year is no different. This summer is the summer of pitch, but it has also become the summer of bass.

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I have tried to become a bassist like three times now. I had an acoustic bass a few years back that was gorgeous and had the most beautiful tone, and I even took lessons and they all fell out of my ears in a puddle, so I gave up. I’ve bought books, I’ve taken online courses and they were all a giant fail. But somehow, a month or so ago, I just picked the thing up, pulled up a song I was obsessed with, looked up the tablature. And I learned it. In a day. OK, so it was an easy-ish song, and I played it over and over for hours until I got it, but I learned it. And that was that. I now know a dozen songs and am working on like eight more. I’m going about it totally backwards; no lessons, no real technique, just playing by ear and from tablature, trial-and-error until it sounds right. I have to practice each song every day or I’ll forget it. I’m doing this all wrong. And I love it!

It could not have come at a better time. Things are so bleak in the outside world right now. So muddled and confused. The news comes at us so fast, right at our faces, like the crack of a whip, and it starts to sting after a while. There’s just so much to digest at once. And me, a social-media butterfly since wayyyyyyy back, well, I was starting to crumble under the pressure. I started to notice how people handle these current events, how we talk about them, how we present them through our various feeds and timelines. And it was stressing me out. We care more about breaking the news than discussing it. More about proving our worth than doing worthy things. The pretense of concern over the action. I am, just like so many others, addicted to the cult of personality, to the 24-hour news cycle, the Twitter “breaking news”, the blending of celebrity and politics like a delicious froyo topped with too many conflicting-but-somehow-delicious toppings.

All those talking points, all those “breaking” stories, but nobody really talking or hearing each other or finding solutions, just endless thinkpiece-ing on a loop. Including my own. It started to ache a little, in my bones.

Social media, for some, is a comfort, a system of support, where you can find a hive of helpful bees eager to buzz you back to a good place. I’ve had that in the past, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore. I’ve never been the type to share the intimate details of my life on social media, anyway (even in my most frenzied, frequent posts, you’ll find me ruminating on current events or music less than telling private details). When I was younger, I tried it, but it always made me feel vaguely nauseated. I have never been one to air my laundry or appeal to the “hivemind” for advice, at least not in public. A private group, maybe. And that isn’t to say that people who *do* that are inherently bad or somehow less better at coping than me. It’s just not my thing. It makes me feel exposed, like I’m pandering for attention, and despite being a weird ass extrovert with a penchant for words, I’m also a socially awkward, sensitive person who doesn’t feel comfortable putting it all “out there”. There’s a reason I’ve never run for office, even though I’m one of the most political people I know.

I took a Facebook “break” of sorts (meaning I’m still on there and share pictures and the occasional article, but the endless posting of news stories and liveblogging current events as they happen had to stop for a while) because it was just bringing me down. I could feel the ennui happening, the dread – not just in me, but in everyone around me. It felt like an echo chamber, like nothing was being said, just an endless regurgitation and it was contributing to my already ugly mental state.

Of course, it backfired, because when I stopped posting about politics on Facebook I started tweeting twice as many things on Twitter. But for some odd reason – and I think I’m in the minority here – Twitter doesn’t stress me out as much as Facebook.

A few days ago, I found myself on the verge of an anxiety attack like I’d never had before. I’ve always had it, coped with it my whole life, and it comes and goes at different levels of intensity, different symptoms at different times. The triggers vary, it all varies. I had a good run of at least six months with almost NO anxiety, and I was gobsmacked. It just…left. Okay, to be fair, it was replaced by some pretty grim, gray depression that made me feel like I was living in a perpetual state of monotone, but compared to the vein-burning frenzy of anxiety, I was cool with it, for the most part. Then the anxiety came back last week. No warning, no real trigger, it was suddenly just there. Life came barreling around the corner and slam! it hit me full in the face. Literally. I found myself at work with shaking hands and the sensation of grape slushy running through my veins, big, fat itchy red hives breaking out under both of my eyes. I had to sit down for a moment and remind myself to breathe, because tunnel vision was coming on and I thought I would faint.

I found myself wishing, for the first time, that I was the type of person who felt comfortable just dishing on Facebook about my struggles. Just put it all out there, the pain, the fear, the nerves, and see what happens. See if it helped, to just say it. Would it all go away? Would I feel immediately lighter? Would I have to stop being comfortable in order to feel better?

But then I thought about it some more, and I decided not. We live in a world where we share it all, and I’m okay with that – I share what I want, when I want, and dog knows I’ve been on a social-media soapbox since Al Gore invented the internet back in the days of JNCOs. Nobody can say I haven’t used the platform. But I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable talking about “My Shit” (and yes, that’s what I call it) out loud and proud for the masses. It might give a bit of comfort, but it’s cold comfort to me, because it doesn’t last. The attention of social media, is, to me, a quick fix, but it doesn’t treat the real issues deep down. A quick scroll and a “like” or a heart emoji and then they’re onto the next thing, and you’re still sitting there, waiting.

Then you’ve got the well-meaning but often patronizing and/or tone deaf advice from people who just want to tell you what to do, without any awareness of whether or not you can actually accomplish their suggestions. The “bootstraps” people. The folks with good intentions who wonder if you’ve ever thought about essential oils? Or had you considered just buying a new car if yours is giving you trouble? Feeling bad? Why not just try yoga? Can’t you open a savings account? Depressed? Anxious? It’s all in your head, just get over it! A brisk nature walk will soothe your ills!

Actually, it does, for me. But I’m not that asshole who will EVER tell you to take a fucking walk to cure your depression. Take a walk because walks are nice and you deserve to brush your fingers against the mottled bark of a tree and smell wet leaves and see sunshine and breathe crisp air. Because those are nice things and you deserve them. I will not try to fix your problems because that’s presuming I am qualified (and I’m definitely not), plus you didn’t ask to be fixed. Fixxers can eat a butt.

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I’m working towards talking about my anxiety and depression, because I think it helps, but more in spaces that I feel are wholly mine, on my terms; like in my writing, whether its books or this blog, in spaces with friends who I know won’t judge me or belittle my experiences (because those of us who don’t talk often about our struggles are usually the first to be dismissed when we get up the courage to – and that’s an unfortunate truth), and by taking part in things that give me joy. Creative outlets. Artistic expression. Becoming lost in another world with a book. Plucking strings to play shitty bass. Watching the Golden Girls while eating M&Ms by the fistful (don’t judge me).

It may be the summer that it all comes crashing down, this house of cards we’re living in. But it’s also the summer Love. Loving what you do. Loving yourself. The summer of bass. The summer of pitching. As many songs and books as I can fit in my brain. The summer of doing things to cultivate a better, more well-rounded self. Sometimes I roll my eyes at terms like “self-care”, even while realizing the need for it, but I think that’s what it is. To take time for you, amid the chaos, is kind of a revolution in itself. That old adage, “you can’t fill from an empty cup”, I guess, rings true.

This afternoon my kid was dancing in weird circles around the room and making some unidentifiable guttural noise. His friend asked him, “What are you doing?” and my mini-me replied in a gleeful tone, “I dunno. I’m just dancing. I have personal issues!” Then he proudly shook his butt.

So that’s what I’m up to. You can find me plucking the bass or ripping out my hair while pitching this damned book that I never want to look at again.

Ah yes, and it is also the summer of hard cider. I found this great one from the blue ridge mountains that tastes like fresh apples. * Raises glass * To summer, both the fun and frustrating, and to our personal issues!

Poncy Poetry Thursday: Homage to a Tumor

Well, I’m all out of excuses. It’s been such a ridiculously, inexcusably long time since I updated my blog. But, alas, for the two of you that actually keep up with this thing, I did warn you.

I’ve been quite busy with my latest piece of writing, a novel that I’ll just call Monarchs for short. I wrapped up writing around February, then spent the entirety of March editing it into oblivion. I revised and re-wrote and finished the second draft a few weeks ago. Now it’s in the hands of test readers, and I’ve already started sending out a handful of pitches. The book takes place in the late 1920s/early 1930s, and focuses on two people: O.T. Lawrence, a poor cotton farmer whose sparse but idyllic family life is suddenly, tragically cut short; and Sivvy Hargrove, a touring tent revival singer who ends up in the Milledgeville Asylum with no hope of being released. That’s all I have to say about them right now. *winky face emoji*

A couple of people have asked when it’ll be “out”, and the short answer is I don’t know. This one is different. With Aroha, I decided to self-publish after a very small window of pitching (nine months or so) and Ka Kite was always intended to be self-published, as it’s a sequel to the former. Monarchs, however, I intend to pitch and try to publish the traditional route. I’ve had offers from a couple of vanity presses, but I’ve never understood those. Educate me if I’m ignorant on this, but it seems to me that if you’re going to sink your own money into the publishing of a novel, that’s essentially self-publishing. So you might as well do it yourself, and omit the costly middle man. But that’s just me.

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So yeah, “Monarchs” is floating through the wires of the interwebs, hoping to find its home with a literary agent who has a taste for a southern gothic/historical fiction hybrid. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

As for this post, I’d considered writing a think-piece of sorts about the state of things at the moment, my frustrations with the current political climate, and my thoughts on poverty and health. I have a lot to say on the subject, a lot of what I hope is wisdom and insight. I started and stopped a couple of times, but ultimately I abandoned the idea (and not just because Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was on and that’s my favorite book/movie of the series). Do we really need another think-piece? Probably not. We’re all distraught, we’re all stressed, we’re all thinking enough for the lot of us. What can I say that hasn’t been thought, felt, said already?

So let there be poetry.

I recently stumbled upon a treasure trove of old, angsty poetry from many years ago. This was one of the more recent of that lot, but it’s still a good eight years old. I always liked it, though please know that I never take myself too seriously when it comes to my prose. It’s as self-deprecating as I am.

As you might guess, it’s an ode to a shitty former lover. As you do.

 

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