Read my story, “Warren Zevon Attempts Happiness,” in Shadowgraph Quarterly

I wrote “Warren Zevon Attempts Happiness” many years ago, as part of my undergraduate creative writing thesis. It is based around true events, but is a completely fictionalized account of what might have happened to Warren Zevon (my favorite singer/songwriter) while he was living in Spain with his wife, Crystal.

But something was missing from it. It lacked “oomph” and tension, and I had no idea how to fix it, and neither did any of my undergrad thesis advisors. By the time I began my MFA program, I had mostly given up on that story.

But on a whim, I brought it to my historical fiction workshop with Katherine Ayres, who is a wonderfully insightful writer and excellent teacher. After I read the story aloud to the group, she asked me a single question: “What is the conflict here?”

It hit me like lightning. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I needed to do to make the story tense and meaningful. In retrospect, it seemed obvious. And, it worked.

Shadowgraph Quarterly, an online literary magazine that also publishes chapbooks, picked up the story for their Spring 2016 issue.

Their editors, who have hawk eyes as well, also picked out a few places where I was telling after I’d shown, and helped me trim the story down to its essentials.

Click here to read “Warren Zevon Attempts Happiness.”

I hope you enjoy it, and if you’ve never heard of Warren Zevon, here’s one of my favorite songs:

2015 by the numbers

Writing

Submitting

  • 4 stories accepted for publication (2 that were published this year were accepted in 2014)
  • 10 submissions withdrawn because of acceptances elsewhere
  • 73 total submissions to literary journals and chapbook presses

Reading

  • 118 total books read of my goal of 125
  • 20 of those were audio books
  • 8 of those were poetry (2 fewer than my goal of 10)
  • 20 of those were on writing, creativity, or blogging

Life

  • 1 house purchased (my first!)
  • 1 floor of said house completely renovated
  • 1 promotion at work

Adding diversity to my fiction

I was halfway through writing my MFA thesis—a collection of feminist retellings of Warren Zevon songs—when I read Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti (one of my favorite feminist authors) and realized I’d made a glaring omission in my project.

All my main characters were women, yes, but they were all white women.

As soon as I had this revelation I wanted to diversify my characters. But I kept asking myself, “As a white woman, do I have the right to write about people of color?

I understand some of the ways women of color experience the world differently from reading widely and having friends, but ultimately, I’m still white. People have treated me in shitty ways and said shitty things to me because I’m a woman and because of my age, but never because of my skin color. I can imagine what that feels like, but I’ve never felt it myself.

It can be hard to write characters that are vastly different from you. It’s hard not to fall in the trap of cliches and stereotypes, and instead build three-dimensional people.

But here’s the thing. As a woman and as a feminist, I can’t not write female characters of color just because it’s hard.

I’m probably going to screw up. I’m probably going to fall into traps I’m trying really hard to avoid.

But I think it’s important to forge ahead anyway. I’m striving to create characters and not caricatures. To create characters whose experiences are informed by their race and gender, but who are, ultimately, individuals with individual desires and needs.

And if I do my job as a fiction writer well, you won’t even notice the struggle and sweat I’ve invested in my work.