Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and Frappuccinos

Years ago, when I first started blogging, I found myself pissing off a handful of people I never intended to piss off, and it surprised me.

I was surprised, in part, because I don’t think I’m all that offensive, in part, because I don’t think a 500-2,000 word blog  post is worth getting worked up over, and, in part, because I doubt I’d be angry if we pulled a Freaky Friday and you were writing about me. It’s a temptation for me to go more in-depth on each of the reasons I don’t understand and didn’t foresee The Anger, but that’s an awful lot like having an argument with someone who’s left the room so I’ll refrain.

Instead, I’m going to try to persuade The Angry to give me back my blog…

For me, this blog and writing in general exist in a separate and imaginary world. Anything the heart experiences is more than admissible in this world; it’s required and respected. The landscape looks like an animated, pre-Pixar Disney film – probably Fern Gully. In this imaginary writing world, J K Rowling grabs coffee with F Scott Fitzgerald to discuss the carelessness of witches and wizards who break things and leave the mess for others to clean up. They set up their coffee couch in the middle of a Fern Gully field. Fitzgerald spikes his coffee, of course, and, while Rowling doesn’t, she thoroughly approves.

Maybe that’s not a great way to describe it. Maybe it’s a barbaric yawp. There’s a poem by William Carlos Williams about dancing naked in front of a mirror while his wife sleeps that I think touches on the freedom I seek in writing. Maybe it’s impossible to paint a picture that displays the beauty, whimsy, thought, humor, and mystery of sitting down and translating thoughts into words. Maybe I can’t help The Angry see what they robbed me of when they limited my writing to the inoffensive…

To write well, I’ve always felt that a person must see and articulate with honesty and without apology. Good writing, to me, prioritizes truth, and truth, even in its most excruciating forms, should be a bridge between people. It should be what C.S. Lewis described as the birth of friendship, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.” That birth of friendship is why I read and write… because it’s such a strange and wonderful thing to know that person who is dead or a person who lives across the world or a person who I thought I knew everything about or any person at all is intimately acquainted with a part of life I thought was exclusive to me.

When people are angry with me for my writing, even though I don’t understand how they could be angry… I feel like I have to censor myself or stop writing altogether so that I won’t need to explain and comfort and apologize for my words. I wish in the past I’d taken a harder line with The Angry. I wish I’d protected my imaginary land of Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and frappuccinos.

This place exists because I wanted to write. It does not exist because a friend or family member said to me, “I want to read,” and I thought, I should write a blog so that _________ can read. Rather, I decided to build myself an imaginary world, where there is no part of myself that is too offensive, too blunt, too honest… and possibly the one place where I could exist as I am without asking for permission.

This has all been churning in my head since I wrote something that didn’t make someone angry.

What I wrote hurled a friend and me into a difficult conversation, but when I offered never to write about that topic again, she said, “I don’t want you to do that. I have no right over your blog. That’s your place.”

I want to write here again. For real. Not for you. For me. It’s cool if you want to read it. It’s also cool if you don’t want to read it. Just please, if you get angry, keep it to yourself and know that whatever I wrote wasn’t about you… I grabbed ahold of something that was troubling in the real world, dragged it to Fern Gully, and sat down to try to sort out our troubles over a cup of spiked coffee.


NaNoWriMo 2015

It’s National Novel Writing Month again… and even though I thought I’d be ready to fully participate this year, I’m not, and I’m sad about it.

Re: the manuscript I’ve been working on for ages…

This manuscript is incredibly personal. Everything about it is wrapped up in who I am and what I’ve seen. That’s not to say that it’s autobiographical. It isn’t. However, it is personal, and there’s a vulnerability in writing what I’ve written.

Also, this may not seem like a big deal, but it’s my first full manuscript. I’ve written tons of first chapters but only one final chapter, and that one final chapter is contained in this manuscript. I’ve written short stories and essays galore, I’ve been starting novels since I was fourteen, but I’ve never put much hope in any of them until my current Work in Progress. I’ve never believed anything would ever come of them.

Additionally, this is the only time I’ve written anything near the realm of Christian Fiction. There’s a weighty responsibility that comes with that. I feel an urgent necessity, that I hate feeling, in writing something that glorifies God. I chose Weston, my character, because I couldn’t imagine a more heart-wrenching conflict than the one I’ve seen in my friends who are both gay and Christians. I thought it was good timing historically for a book about that conflict. I thought it would be easy to sell. Yet, now that it comes down to either publishing it or not, I’ve got a slow-growing fear based in all of the things that drew me to this conflict to begin with. I’m afraid of how the nation is changing, and how my friends are changing. I’m afraid of how difficult it seems to be for people like Weston to hold onto convictions and trust that God has it covered, and even if they don’t get what they want, to refuse to bow down to any claiming the place that belongs only to the Almighty.

Piled on top of that fear is the problem I currently have of perspective. I started out trying to write my manuscript in 3rd person, because it’s an impersonal, analytical way of writing that allowed me to think the story instead of feeling it. There’s this strange thing that happens in the writer’s mind, where characters are real. It would be impossible for me to write a great story without suspending my disbelief at least as much as I want my readers to suspend theirs, so Weston is a real person to me. I have emotions towards him that only find their match in my relationships to real people. I feel affection, disappointment, anger, and hope for him and for the other characters in his life – Madison, Riley, Dave… all of them. That’s super difficult, because it’s my job to push these people through to most difficult parts of their lives.

I would prefer to do that in 3rd person, even though that wasn’t the right choice for this story.

Alongside the emotions of it, writing in 1st person has a ton of complications because the story is not about what happened. Rather, it’s about what one person thought happened. A narrator who is living the story is almost never going to be 100% reliable, and my character is particularly unreliable because she’s young, foolish, and confused. She’s emotionally invested to the extent that she can’t see straight. The result of telling the story this way is hours – nay, HOURS and HOURS and HOURS – of trying to figure out how a person can tell a story exactly as she experienced it without communicating only what she experienced. Ideally, Madison would tell her story honestly and without concern for the reader, but I’d be skilled enough to communicate to the reader through Madison – that I’d show bits and pieces that Madi didn’t see, or saw falsely.

It’s painstaking work.

Also, I decided to rewrite the entire ending of my story. I got one of those epiphanies that hit at the strangest times, when the muse speaks, and what needs to be written becomes clear. And yet, it’s a ton of work rewriting the entire ending – especially because I did my best to weave the ending into every chapter of the book so that readers could look back and be all mind-blown at the clues that were there all along.

So… where I find myself now is at the end again, rewriting and trying to be intentional about the level of satisfaction I bring to readers… or not. It would be easy for me to wrap everything up nicely and tie it with a bow for readers. OR it would be easy for me to wrap nothing up and leave readers bewildered to figure it out for themselves. Probably, the right thing to do is somewhere in the middle of those.

Finally, the actual news of this post is that I’ve recently been put in touch with an editor who may actually be able to help me, without costing me a boatload of cash, which means I need to get myself in gear pretty quickly here and not let this opportunity pass.


All I want to do is start a brand-new manuscript that I can write in the detached voice of an omniscient 3rd person narrator. I want it to be an absurd dark comedy/social commentary about public education, and I want to be in the planning stage rather than this editing and perfecting stage that I have to be in with Weston’s story.


I love NaNoWriMo… next year, I guess.

Spam? … Or Poetry?

*So… I was reading some of the spam in my spam folder, and I realized that one piece shined above all of the others.

And must be turned into a poem.

Therefore, I deleted, rearranged, punctuated, and came up with this… I think you’ll find life more meaningful after reading it.


it appears such as the only strategy

to break cost-free from your cruel chains.

Fate is always to take a bet.

With 1 ticket,

a single gold-filled lottery ticket,

you will go from down in your luck

to winning.

You can,

beyond shadow of doubt,

live the life you intended,

your options no more restricted by the magnitude of the bank account.

Breakfast around the finest meals.

Journey most extraordinary.



I understand you might be asking yourself why.

The explanation is easy.

You need to evaluate.



Holding Hands in the Wreckage

* Here’s a throw-back post that originally went up Nov. 24, 2010. I felt like it ended up defining me as a writer and a person in many ways. Enjoy.


I’ve been thinking about endings a lot lately.  I’ve been thinking about the ending to my manuscript, the end of Harry Potter’s story, and the endings in my own life (most of which aren’t even visible on the horizon because I’m younger than I think I am).  I’ve had a bunch of conversations recently – with some people who are idealistic and others who are disillusioned – and in these conversations, I bounce back and forth between fluffy optimism and tortured cynicism.  I’m the devil’s advocate.  If the person I’m talking to is being all double rainbow all the way across the sky, I’m snow melted inside your boots and all over your favorite socks.  If I’m talking to someone who can’t conceive a world in which Bambi’s mom lives, I’m world peace (and harsher punishments for parole violators)… not because I’m trying to disagree with everyone, but because life, I think, is the impossible melding of hope and realism.

Earlier this week, I was reading the Invincible Summer blog by Hannah Moskowitz, and she wrote something that really hit on this balance and on what readers and humanity desire out of stories and life.

“No evil winning. Your characters don’t have to be making out in the sunset, but they have to at least be holding hands in the wreckage.”

When I come to the end of a journey in life or a story, I want a hopeful ending.  I don’t need it to be all warm & fuzzy and perfect.  I don’t need Harry to come out of it unscathed, nor would I suspend my disbelief if Rowling had written it that way.  The truth is that life is hard.  The world is a messed-up place where people die, hearts are broken, and tears are frequently justified.  However, I also can’t stomach hopelessness.  Voldemort can’t win.

In life and in stories, I have to hope towards the future.  I have to hope that good things happen when we don’t deserve them and that there’s a good God spreading out breath-taking goodness for us because He is good.  I have to believe for my characters and for myself.  I look forward to holding hands in the wreckage, and I pray that all of my readers can trust in a God who makes that happen for us.

Don’t Be Embarrassed

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use ’emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’ and you’ll never say John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion when you mean John stopped long enough to take a !@#$.”

Stephen King On Writing (117)

Striking Out, Looking

I’ve recently several sin-able opportunities that I have not taken. And the not sinning feels like the first novel I ever attempted to write. Its title was Striking Out Looking.

In softball and baseball, striking out looking is the equivalent of an unpardonable sin. You don’t do it. You go down swinging… that’s forgivable. Even going down swinging at a terrible pitch is forgivable. However, right before I gave up softball, I was thinking about how wise it is in life to be willing to occasionally watch strike three go by. Recently, I was given some advice that mirrors that idea of just letting a pitch go by, and it reminded me of that tension between what feels right, and what actually is right.

My novel was about teenage love, so, of course it was cliché and overdone, so don’t judge me my over-romatic premise here. High school sweethearts are heading off to college, and boy has bought the ring. He loves her and doesn’t want to lose her… and yet, right on the edge of the proposal, he realizes that if he really loves her, he has to let her go. So… he let’s the pitch go by and she moves away, ending their romance forever.

Tragic. Dramatic.

I know.

But I liked examining that feeling of intentionally not going after something, because it’s not always right to knock that pitch out of the park.

Just now, I had one such moment.

There’s a man who I want, and maybe God talked me into quitting my job to get away from him, and I’m trying to move on because he’s not a Christian, and therefore strictly off-limits.

Just now, though, there was this thing I was reading, that would have been the greatest quote I could ever send him. It would be so clever. It alludes to some inside jokes we have going. It’s basically the most brilliant thing I’ve ever come across.

Also, I sooooo love texting people quotes. I love quotes.

But. I. Can’t. Text. This. One.

I can’t.

It’s a terrible pitch for me to go after. I’d knock it out of the park, for sure.

But I had to let it go, which should make me feel incredibly proud, probably, because I don’t think most people would let this one go. But I don’t feel proud much at all. I’m just sad, because it’s been a really long time since I’ve gotten to take a legit swing at a pitch.

The Resignation

*I’m not sure what the rules are about the resignation letter, but let’s hope it’s okay for me to share it here.

Dear (My Principal),

In order to pursue other opportunities, I am resigning my position at Ironwood Ridge High School, effective for the 2015-2016 school year. While I’m not currently set on an y one specific opportunity for the future, I am confident that the seven years I spent in education, and specifically at Ironwood Ridge High School, have prepared me in more ways than can be measured for whatever positions I assume down the road.

I want to thank you, and the entire IRHS staff, for teaching me how to teach, as well as how to learn. I believe my colleagues at IRHS have shaped me into a more caring, more decent human being, and for that I’m forever grateful. In particular, I hope you’ll convey my sincere appreciate to the entire English Department, and especially Susan WIlliams, as a department chair who was there for me in more ways than she was required to be. Additionally, Terri Amonson and Eileen Jonaitis are two individuals who helped me believe in myself and the often-invisible impact I had on students’ lives. There are many more staff members at IRHS who have changed my life for the better, helping me laugh, preparing me for world travels, tolerating my observations in their classrooms, and introducing me to good books – both literary and not. The sheer number of individuals I’m tempted to list here is a testament to this site. IRHS was truly an excellent place to work.

On that not I hope you’ll accept my resignation, and fill my position with someone who can add to this community in a unique and selfless way. There are many things I’m tempted to write in this letter- many explanations I’m tempted to give, but I believe the situation speaks for itself. I am a young, passionate professional who believe in public education as an ethical mandate. I love students and I love stories. Thus, I can think of no better career than playing the match-maker between students and stories. However, I feel I must leave behind something I love and truly don’t want to leave behind. Perhaps I’ll be back in the future, destiny and district permitting, but, for now, I believe it’s appropriate to see what else is out there.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with the transition – especially in regards to the Language Acquisition program. In intend to make myself available through the summer for the person taking over with the English Language Learners.

Sincerely and with gratitude,

Kathryn (Katie) James