Alpha Interview: Rachel Grinti

I’ve briefly mentioned the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers on this blog before. It’s a workshop that changed my life as a writer. I got the chance to work with amazing writers like Tamora Pierce, Holly Black, Timothy Zahn, and Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Tamora Pierce is at the workshop every year, and the 2013 Alphans will also get to work with Theodora Goss and Scott Westerfeld. Needless to say, I am jealous. The admissions deadline for Alpha is coming up on March 3rd, and in the meantime, Alpha alums are working on promoting the workshop and fundraising.

My part in this is that I’m one of two blogs that will be posting interviews with Alpha alumni both old and new over the next couple weeks. Go check out the blog of the brilliant Sarah Brand for the others. If you’re an eligible 14-19 year old writer, we hope to convince you to apply. If you’re not, we hope to convince you that Alpha is worth donating to and supporting.

rachelgrintiFor the first interview, I talked to Rachel Grinti. She attended Alpha in 2002 when she was 17. She later obtained her Masters in Library Information Sciences, and now runs a weekly writing group for 4th-6th graders at her library. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and has attended their regional writing conferences. Her debut novel, Claws, written with fellow Alpha alum Mike Grinti, came out in 2012 from Chicken House/Scholastic.

Why did you decide to apply to Alpha?

I’ve been making up stories my whole life, but when I was in high school, I started thinking about trying to get something published. I joined an online writing forum to meet other writers. I met Diane Turnshek, and found out she lived in Pittsburgh, too. A year or so later, she told me she was starting a writing workshop for teen writers. I’d get to meet other writers my age who were serious about writing genre fiction and learn from published authors. Sounded great to me!

What are your top three favorite Alpha memories?

The “ask me anything” Q&A with Tammy Pierce.

Staying up way too late writing and talking.

Finding out I really like critiquing.

How does Alpha compare to other writing instruction you’ve had?

Before Alpha, I hadn’t had any writing instruction. A few years later, I took a couple creative writing courses in college. Nothing in those college classes stuck with me. Every college writing course is different of course, but the ones I attended were not useful to me. At Alpha, we gave critiques and learned how to respond to constructive criticism. In my college writing classes, I risked Glares of Doom from the class at large if I criticized a story when it was time for feedback. Students at Alpha aren’t writing for a grade, they’re writing because it’s their passion. It was a big difference.

If you could give any advice to young writers going into Alpha, what would it be?

Hello future Alphan. You are a cool person, you will meet other cool people, you will have fun and learn things and it will be awesome. Don’t stress. Okay? Cool.

Be open to trying different things with your writing. The authors/editors/instructors at the workshop will all have, at least to some extent, different methods, different advice, some of which may be contradictory. And that’s okay. It’s good, in fact. Try everything, and figure out what works best for you.

Also, remember that you can learn as much or more about writing from giving critiques as you can from getting them.

How has Alpha continued to impact your life since attending?

Oh, in tons of ways. I volunteer to critique student’s application stories each year. I’d love to return as staff someday — I’d love to be a resource for young writers and a friend and source of support, just as people I met at Alpha were (and still are!) for me. I’m part of the workshop alumni Google group where former students I’ve met and many more I haven’t keep in contact, share news, and critique stories. I still keep in contact with people I met through the workshop. And I suppose I should mention I’m now married and co-authoring books with Mike, who eleven years ago was some kid I met at Alpha. (No, I’m not saying go because you’ll find True Love. But you’ll definitely find some true friends!)

You Know What Sucks? Depression.

TW: self-harm, suicide

Nope, only beds here. Your productive member of society is in another castle.
Nope, only beds here. Your productive member of society is in another castle.

Your  alarm has gone off at least five times. Maybe six, or seven, or maybe you should stop counting. You should get out of bed. You have to get up, go to class, participate, socialize, be a productive member of society. Otherwise, what’s the point of you?

But to do that, you have to get out of bed, and you’re not sure that’s possible. You feel like you’re part of the bed. Maybe you are the bed.

You aren’t the bed, but there are nasty little beasties inside you telling you otherwise. They gnaw at your muscles until you can’t move. They make you feel impossibly heavy. How can you get out of bed when you’re drawn to it by your own personal gravitational force?

They’re in your brain, too. “Worthless,” they say. “Lazy. Incompetent. Failure. You can’t even get out of bed.” They gnaw at your muscles some more.

That’s just how the beasties are when you’re in bed. They’re sleepy. If you get out of bed, well, they’ll be wide awake. They’ll start to work on your appetite. What will it be today? Will you have to force yourself to stomach some yogurt, or will you eat several pieces of leftover pizza, some Easy Mac, and three KitKats before you even start to feel like you can stop eating? They’ll keep gnawing at your muscles, of course, and make you ache. Best yet, they’ll have much more to say.

“Really? Yoga pants and a T-shirt? Did you even shower today? Ugh, slob.”

“You see those people over there, laughing? You know they’re laughing at you, right? They can see you’re worthless. They think it’s funny you even bother when you’re obviously doomed to failure.”

“You skipped your morning class. Your professor probably hates you now. Your classmates are rolling their eyes. ‘Why does she even bother trying?’ they wonder. They can see the failure all over you, too.”

“Oh, you’re thinking of actually going to your next class? Why? You’ll talk too much or too little and they’ll all hate and judge you. What’s the point? They know you aren’t cut out for this.”

“You drop a class or two every semester and you don’t even have a job. If you can’t handle college, how are you going to survive in the real world? You know the answer to that, though. You won’t survive.”

“No, don’t talk to your friends and family about it. Don’t you disappoint them enough as it is?”

“Aw, you’re taking your antidepressants? How cute.”

The voices paralyze you. Maybe you cry uncontrollably, or just stare into space, unable to move. You start thinking of ways to hurt yourself. Maybe just a few cuts would relieve the pressure inside you. Maybe you should take a dozen melatonin and sleep for the next week. Maybe you should just end it all.

“You’d still be a disappointment,” the nasty little beasties say. “Aren’t you supposed to be stronger?”

The worst part is, no one who doesn’t deal with the beasties will understand. They’ll think you’re weak and lazy. “Why don’t you just get over it? Have a more positive attitude! Stop dwelling!” There’s no physical evidence that they can see, so to them it’s not an illness. It’s not a valid reason to miss class or work or to stay in bed all day. It’s not like you’re throwing up or running a fever.

Cutting starts to seem like a good idea again. Maybe they’ll take you seriously if you’re bleeding.

Or maybe you should just stay in bed.

Disclaimer: Since I know there are people who will worry, I’m not presently in danger of harming myself. I am in a safe place. I just felt that to exclude those thoughts would be disingenuous. Mostly I am just a bed.

TW: Trigger Warnings

Sloths also appreciate trigger warnings.
Sloths also appreciate trigger warnings.

I’m going to have posts in the future that get into some pretty heavy stuff – stuff you may not want to read about. There’s a solution, though, and that’s the trigger warning. If a post contains a commonly triggering topic, or one that I think could be triggering, I’ll warn you in big bold letters and you can choose to walk away.

Because that’s what trigger warnings are about. They get made fun of sometimes, particularly in regards to people who warn against every possible trigger. Triggered by cats? Okay, here’s a warning. Marshmallows? Warning there, too. Sometimes people want trigger warnings for things that just make them sort of uncomfortable. When the warnings get overloaded like that and people start asking for more and more, it starts to seem like censoring.

Trigger warnings are not about censoring, at least, not to me. They are not about telling bloggers what they can and can’t post about just because some things might bother certain parts of their audience. Trigger warnings are just that – warnings.

I am going to talk about rape and self-harm and suicide and body shaming. These are things that can really screw with someone who isn’t prepared to read about them. Even mentions of cutting can make my desire to self-harm flare up. I know it’s not good for me to read posts about self-harm, because of the reactions I have to that topic. This makes me really appreciative of trigger warnings. Get it?

I can’t make you put trigger warnings on your posts. I know that it seems like a slippery slope to start on and oh god where do the warnings stop? What do you warn against, what do you ignore? People have triggers that you can’t predict. It would be easy to get paranoid and warn for absolutely everything. That’s up to you.

As a blogger, I can promise you that I will be posting trigger warnings for the difficult topics I’ll be discussing, especially if it’s not obvious in the post title. After that, it’s up to you to make the choice.

January Awesomeness

awesome slothHere’s a thing I’m going to start doing. On the first of every month, I’m going to make a post much like this one wherein I give you ten links to some awesome stuff I found in the month before. These won’t all be things that were created in that month, just stuff I found in that month. Get it? Good. Here we go, in no particular order, your January dose of awesome.

This dude with a bear cub on the beach.

This comic.

This bittersweet note to self.

This constant stream of six-second videos from around the world.

This empowering video from Disney.

This art project with a message about slut shaming.

This bird singing dubstep.

These seventeen quick pages of sex ed that probably has something you don’t know about your own body.

This post on how to date a fat girl.

These awesome resolutions.

So, what did I miss? Hit the comments below!

Confession: I Dog Ear Books

Oh, book art. What would I do without you?
Oh, book art. What would I do without you?

I dog ear the pages of books. I do it to save my place or to mark a favorite section. I also have about a million bookmarks, store-bought, friend-made, receipts from foreign countries, train tickets, cool pieces of paper or ribbon, and anything else that can conceivably be used as a bookmark. But sometimes I dog ear instead, because sometimes that’s what feels right.

I write in the margins. Marginalia is one of my favorite words. Isn’t it beautiful? I bracket my favorite passages and underline beautiful sentences. I draw hearts and sad faces. I often wish I could keymash. Sometimes “asglkhasgl;akhsglaks” says more than real words can.

I bend paperbacks when I’m reading. I leave them open page-down on a table when I get up for a moment. I don’t see it as breaking their spines. I see it as breaking them in, like shoes you’re going to rely on for years, shoes that will take you places. I relish the long white lines on the spines of well-read books.

And you know what? I feel no shame.

All the time, I see people talk about how horrifying it is to do such a thing to a book. They could never do that! It’s disrespectful or hurtful. And that’s fine. If your method of showing love to a book is to keep it pristine, I respect that.

But I believe that books should be interacted with. I love going back to a book and seeing all the little things left behind by me or another reader entirely. What did that last reader (even past me) love and hate? What did they have to say? Where did they stop reading? Which page corners were so often folded that they’re almost coming off?

It’s a journey, just like the story. Well-read and well-marked books are one of my favorite things. I would like it it other book-lovers would stop acting like dog-earing pages makes me some heathen. I’m an avid reader, just like you. I just read a little differently.

Note: This post was originally posted on my Tumblr, but this topic has been on my mind and I decided to edit it and post it here.

And now a quick writing check-in. From 1/23 to 1/29 I wrote 5090 words, with two zero days. Both stats are way better than last week. Let’s hope that’s not a fluke.