Picture it: January, 2014.
I was enjoying seven months of sobriety and live tweeting the Golden Globes in my pajamas. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were hosting that year (as if you could forget perfection), and Woody Allen was receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award.
Why bring Woody Allen into this? Well, I’ll tell you. Because I follow all of the best people on twitter, my feed was cluttered with criticism of Allen (deservedly), and the most poignant tweet I read that night came from Ronan Farrow.
What does Ronan Farrow have to do with this? Everything.
The next day at work I typed Ronan Farrow’s name into Wikipedia, simply because I was curious about him. When his picture came up, (all blue eyes and pale skin and full lips) Fane, a primary antagonist of Terrible Praise book one of The Redamancy Series was born.
This was ridiculous for several reasons. For starters, beyond a couple facial features, Ronan Farrow could not possibly be farther from the character Fane, and Fane is merely a supporting character in the novel. Not to mention, this was years before Farrow’s work as an investigative journalist covering the Weinstein horrors would make him both a household name and a regular interviewee. But the strangest thing by far, is that before I saw that photo, there was no Fane. There was no book.
I’ve heard it called a lightening strike moment, and you can call it that if you like, because I can think of no better way to describe what happened. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Farrow was the catalyst, not the seed.
When I was about twenty years old, I had a nightmare. This was not uncommon for me then, and it is not uncommon now. But this dream stayed with me for many years because it’s among the most vivid I’ve ever had.
I was crawling through a tunnel, clean and dry, constructed of smooth and polished wood. There was light, but only enough to illuminate a couple feet ahead of me, and the light moved with me as I crawled. I knew I wasn’t alone. There was someone behind me. But they were not what I was afraid of, nor was I trying to get away from them.
There was a hatch in the floor and when I found it, I knew I had been looking for it. I lifted the hatch and dropped through the ceiling into a large, ornate bedroom. The person at my heels followed close behind, I heard her feet hit the floor, and when I turned around to look at her I woke up. The only thing I could remember about that woman was that her eyes were solid black.
Over the years, I tried to turn that nightmare into a short story and failed, repeatedly. I didn’t know what was missing, or why I couldn’t translate the terror and the awe. So, the nightmare sat buried in my subconscious beneath a mountain of trivia about all my favorite actresses, repressed memories, and maybe a few random snippets of interesting mythology.
Then, in 2014, staring at a Wikipedia entry about a standup journalist, an antagonist was born from nothing. As though my mind had already begun constructing a narrative entirely without my knowledge. The next face I saw, this time in my head, (like she’d been nipping at my heels for years) was Stela. Vampire and anti-heroine of Terrible Praise. She was quite literally the woman of my dreams, the same woman who crawled behind me through that tunnel years before. She introduced to me the object of her affection, a nurse named Elizabeth and incidentally, the love of both our lives.
I don’t think I did a single shred of paid work that day. Once the fuse was lit, my brain was on fire and it was everything I could do to capture the ideas as they came. Within ten hours, I knew this was a series, not a standalone novel. Within two days, I had outlined the series, and broken Terrible Praise down into chapters.
Though the original outline only factored three books, which I later (begrudgingly) broke out into four, the content has changed very little. I use the same outline I’ve used for the last four years.
Terrible Praise is my first novel, but it isn’t my first attempt. I set aside what might have been my first manuscript when The Redamancy Series arrived. The series demanded my time, my attention, and then some. But as a reward, it brought me a level of clarity I had been missing all my life.
Never before had I sat down to a story and enjoyed the elation of knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing precisely what I was meant to do. It’s an immeasurable gift. I’m so grateful I was able to stop drinking long enough to find my place, and I’ve stayed sober to keep building this paper home.
Which brings me to you, and the part you played in all this.
I retreated when I got sober. There was a lot I had to learn about myself and not all of it was pleasant. I learned that I was not as gregarious and outgoing as I believed. I still hated crowds, something I thought I had outgrown. There were distinct characteristics in me that I did not particularly like, and I had to reconcile who I thought I was with who I actually am.
Fortunately, my mother and brother were incredible, supportive, and encouraging. I had amazing friends around me who brewed coffee when I came over and didn’t offer me booze. Friends who wanted to be around me, regardless of whether or not I could join the festivities. They’re not past tense friends by any means, and neither are you.
Though I kept my core group friends, there were people I had to pull away from. This had less to do with who they are, and more to do with me. But as a result, I had fewer invitations, and I was spending a lot more time at home. The transition was fairly abrupt and would have been much harder if not for Twitter.
Twitter became my Cheers. I won’t do anyone the disservice of casting them as characters from the series because I know we’d all fight to the death to be Lilith Sternin. But it was where I went, where everybody knew my name. Not everybody, capital E, but you know what I mean.
Twitter was a way to be social that had nothing at all to do with drinking, or bars, or restaurants with bars. I felt funny, it was easier for me to be gregarious without a crush of bodies to maneuver around. I met my beta reader on Twitter. My mentor on Twitter. My podcast partner on Twitter.
There were trivia games (screencaps of actresses and people asking “hey, where do we know her from?”). Live tweeting. Truth bombs. Shipping polls and March Madness brackets that nearly killed us. We’ve had disagreements along the way, but so often what I see when I click that tiny blue bird are people supporting people. People I know and people I don’t. People I feel like I know only because I’ve been lowkey cyber-stalking them for years.
The queer fandom community heard me knocking, threw wide the door, and welcomed me. We laugh together, we cry together, we get disillusioned and rejuvenated together. We check in with each other, we collaborate, and we process together.
I could write a separate article about why I chose to write about vampires. Why I set the book in Chicago. Maybe I should. Or maybe we’ll talk about it tomorrow through texts and tweets. But that’s not what this article is about.
I want you to know that you were at the forefront of my mind as I wrote Terrible Praise. I’m not saying it’s perfect. I’m sure I’ve gotten things wrong along the way. I can’t promise you’ll love it. But I can promise that it came from a place of love. A love of storytelling, a love of sharing, love for my community and a deep need to give back to that community.
I hope you like the book. I wrote it for you.