this one’s for the women

Dear Memphis and Harriet; Patsy and Ruth; Elizabeth, Myra and Gwen…

The women who star in my novels carry bits of my heart. Each one of you contains a part of me that could be worse or better if dramatized and flavored with other characteristics. and set in some other life. Patsy, I think I gave you a little bit of my badassery, except you are braver than I. (Who burns a Confederate flag at a swamp?) And Memphis, you’re quirky and existential, and maybe I have a hint of that, but I’m no magic weaver on a farm. Gwen, you’re vicious when you’re hurt. I can be, too, except I’m not brave enough to be so hilariously horrid. Ruth, you are the best friend I can imagine, a mentor and mother figure, and you’re quirky and crazy and dammit, you know people. Myra, you know loss, and I put you through more of it, just to see how much you could take. And Elizabeth, well, you search for identity like we all do, except few of us accidentally-on purpose- become an imposter.

Dear characters, you saved my life. After the 2016 election, I was gutted. Anorexia hit harder than ever, and I knew- god I have always known- that I needed something else if I had any hope of recovery. When I began my first terrible, melodramatic novel about the political disaster my country was (and is) experiencing, I was damned close to death. I couldn’t sit still. My labs showed kidney damage. I was severely underweight. When I finished the novel, I came up with the idea to go back to college. I discovered the deepest friendships in my own imagination.

Before I practiced craft and developed the authorly control to carry a story to novel length, I created characters. These characters changed my life.

I think about this as THE WEAVER is going to debut, and what it will be like when it’s out in the wild. And hopefully CALL ME ELIZABETH LARK will find a home. I am still madly, truly and deeply in love with the shelved novel, THAT NIGHT ON THE BAYOU.  It needs something. I just need to percolate over what. A novel in short stories? Maybe. I’ve always wanted to do that!

I write creepy stories with a murder or a twist here or there, and I love atmosphere. But my novels come back to one theme, every time– women coming together to help each other.

So, this one’s for the characters in my books, especially the women.

Friday Poem

Intuition

Melissa Woods

eyes crawl down her neck

nestled in thick patches of forest

nocturnal

waiting

 

he is an owl

talons curled into a branch

still

quiet

 

the owl spreads watches with luminous eyes that cut

through the inky night

and she is

leaving leaving leaving

 

 

the flick of a match

cold and bright and the smell

of smoke billowing in plumes of gray

dust that smacks like briny waves

 

but she knows and she knows and she knows that

love is a spark but

fear gobbles oxygen with

vicious vicious viscious

words

 

and fear is energy

energy

cannot be created or destroyed.

 

it

only

changes

 

form.

New Year, Not New You

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and I brace myself for the influx of books and resolutions insisting that the best way to live a rich and fulfilling life is to become someone else. It’s really that simple; lose weight and become smaller, eat a perfectly healthy diet, set up radical goals. Forge a path through an uncleared forest with a pair of scissors.

Please don’t. Losing weight won’t make you happy if that’s what you need to curate a ‘new you’. And posting all over social media about it will only trigger those of us with eating disorders. Plus, it won’t last. Come on, you know it’s true.

You do you. Accept who you are and use those strengths. How’s that for a radical goal?

Last year, without knowing it, I achieved more writing goals than I thought possible by ditching the idea that I could change myself. I am who I am; you get what you get. I spent a lot of time improving my craft, rather than myself. I wrote over 200,000 words of fiction not counting the multiple drafts my two books went through. I own time management. I am good at it. If you want to develop a healthy habit, I suggest learning time management. Thank you six children.  Thank you limited time, the Scrivener app, the extra hour of child care I get at the gym after my workout; thank you school pickup lines. Thank you nanny, the solitude of a library, and Starbucks. Most of all, thank you to the man who supports me and my goals and loves his kids.

So, in 2018, I published a memoir piece and several poems in lit mags. I wrote and revised two novels and shelved one. And signed a publishing contract. And college.

This may sound like bragging, but really it’s a matter of getting a life. I’ve spent the last six years drowning in anorexia nervosa. Obsessing over calorie counts and logging workouts and standing on scales is an exhausting time suck. It’s an imaginary achievement based on an imaginary societal ideology, driven by an innate neurological malfunction.

I didn’t choose to give up my eating disorder; the disease is too insidious for that, and mine is damn treatment resistant. Rather, I started writing and slowly the perseverance I had reserved for my weight seeped into a perseverance to complete manuscripts. To get better.

I’m not perfect. And this is the point. One therapist told me that perfect is boring. I get it now, as I craft characters who are vibrant because they are wildly imperfect, sometimes not even likable. I write about mental illness. The Weaver deals with alcoholism, bipolar disorder, PTSD and agoraphobia. And a creepy little town, a murder, and a flooding old farm just for fun.

If you struggle with mental health, be gentle with yourself. Your illness is anything but kind, and recovery can take many years. With my anorexia, I always knew I would have to find something else before I could let go of the obsession with my weight. Always knew it, but didn’t know how to do it. I am (pun very much intended) an open book with this stuff.

And I know that you can slap as many layers of paint over your truth and get nothing but sore arms. It’s like revising a book by fixing the commas.

New Year, New You? Nah, how about a radical revision in how we think? What if we accept who we are and step away from the need to control and orchestrate everything?

Maybe that’s where the magic happens.

The Journey Begins

 

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.” – Ernest Hemingway

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