Author Interview, Publishing/Editing, Writing


ZombiesMoreRecentDead_cover“Becca at the End of the World” by Shira Lipkin will break your heart. When your only child is bitten by a zombie and already starting to show signs of turning, what is a mother supposed to do? Some of the descriptions in this fairly short story really hit me hard and choked me up. Having a little guy of my own definitely drove home for me the horror of this story. Whether you have children or not, it’s a masterful piece that will linger with you long after you’ve turned the page.

Prepare yourself for the coming apocalypse and save yourself a copy of Zombies: More Recent Dead before it’s released in September! You can pre-order a copy from Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, or Amazon.

1. The Writing Question: Do you tend to plan your stories before you write them, or do you write and just see what you discover in the process?

I’m a complete pantser. I tend to know a few things about the story, usually including roughly how it’ll end, but for the most part, I just sit down to write and see what happens!

2. The Zombie Question: What enticed you to write this zombie story?

I never thought I’d write a zombie story, simply because I couldn’t think of a new way to do it! There’s such a wide variety of excellent zombie fiction out there already. In the end, I had to write this story because it was so personal. It wasn’t “write a story about zombies for the hell of it”, it was “here’s something interesting and primal about the mother/daughter bond; also, zombies.”

3. The Random Question: What other projects do you have forthcoming that you’d like to share with us?

I started a poetry magazine! Liminality ( is a quarterly speculative poetry magazine that I co-edit with fellow writer Mat Joiner. We’re really excited about our first issue (coming this fall!) and already can’t wait to read for the next one.

Shira Lipkin has managed to convince Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Stone Telling, Clockwork Phoenix 4, and other otherwise-sensible magazines and anthologies to publish her work; two of her stories have been recognized as Million Writers Award Notable Stories, and she has won the Rhysling Award for best short poem. She credits luck, glitter eyeliner, and tenacity. She co-edits Liminality (, a magazine of speculative poetry, with Mat Joiner. She lives in Boston and, in her spare time, fights crime with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. Her cat is bigger than her dog.

Publishing/Editing, Writing

This Week’s WOW!: The Coming of Uncanny


This week, former editor-in-chief of Apex Magazine, Lynne M. Thomas announced that she and co-editor/husband Michael Damian Thomas are creating a new spec fix webzine. I cannot even begin to explain to you how awesome this is, so let me hit the highlights:

1. Lynne & Michael are rockstars. Apex Magazine under Lynne and Michael was fabulous. They’re great editors with great taste and great connections. They’re also very efficient and supportive to work for. Under their guidance, Apex Magazine netted two Hugo award nominations in 2013 and 2014, so you know they know what they’re doing.

2. They’re looking for diverse voices in SF. Even before Apex, both Lynne and Michael have been devoted to bringing traditionally unrepresented voices and POV to the printed (and digital) page. Lynne co-edited the nonfiction book CHICKS DIG COMICS and CHICKS DIG TIME LORDS, among others, which sought to bring often overlooked female fandom into the light. Michael co-edited QUEERS DIG TIME LORDS, celebrating LGBT Doctor Who fandom. They have great eyes for finding amazing work that in the past may have struggled to find supportive markets for the POV’s they share. This, more than anything, is why you should keep Uncanny on your radar.

3. A new market means more opportunities for a writer’s work to find a home. And they’re hoping to pay $0.08/word! It won’t be long before it’s a feather in your professional cap to have Uncanny in your list of previous publications.

So definitely check out what they’re doing over there, and do consider donating to their Kickstarter, because this is going to be one of those markets you’re going to want to say, “I knew them when…”

Author Interview, Publishing/Editing, Three Questions, Writing, Zombies: More Recent Dead


ZombiesMoreRecentDead_coverJay Wilburn’s story in Zombies: More Recent Dead will give you chills. “Dead Song” documents the rise of indie music among the survivors in a post-apocalyptic zombie landscape. There are some great, humorous touches to this story, and Mr. Wilburn’s got a great eye for sidelong commentary, but I guarantee this story will get to you. I couldn’t put it down. The darkness in this one creeps up on you slowly, inching up like a slow tide until it’s all around you and there’s no shore in sight. Beautiful, sometimes funny, and spine-tingling, you’re going to love this one.

Prepare yourself for the coming apocalypse and save yourself a copy of Zombies: More Recent Dead before it’s released in September! You can pre-order a copy from Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, or Amazon.

1. The Writing Question: Do you write for a living or do you have a day job? What about your current financial situation do you like or dislike?

I write full-time. I used to be a public school teacher for nearly sixteen years. The younger of my two sons became ill and we had to make some changes. I quit my job mid year and stayed home with him. My master plan was to write zombie stories to pay the bills. With horror, science fiction, and other genre, I managed to pull it off. I do ghostwriting and freelancing as well and between my own fiction and work-for-hire, I have managed to pay my rent as I stay home with my kids. The writing and the family are all doing well for now.

I tell people that quitting your job to write full-time IS a crazy, stupid idea, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Sometimes it is easier to write when you don’t have the pressure of paying bills with it. Sometimes the threat of starvation is a hell of a motivator. I don’t believe we are nearly as trapped in life as many of us believe ourselves to be. The worst that could happen in following your dreams is that you fail miserably, but that can happen even when you are following no dream at all.

2. The Zombie Question: What do you think is behind the mass appeal interest in zombies for the last 10 years?

The funny thing about this question is that people have been asking it for twenty or thirty years now. People have been predicting the demise of the zombie for just as long too. I think part of it comes down to the fact that fans of the trope are hungry for it. There is tons of bad fiction in all media with some pronounced examples in zombie-related fiction, but that somehow adds to the hunger for something good. The trend seems to be to change up the zombie as the answer, but The Walking Dead is probably the broadest example of the rise in mass appeal in the last ten years and they follow as close to the “Romero traditional” universe of zombies as anything out there. After about season two, I had far more regular people coming up to discuss their zombie plans with me. Story and all its elements rule all. I think the greatest drive in the appeal of the zombie is this unspoken belief in many that the remaining potential is far greater than what has been realized in the kinetic. Whether that is true or not, the majority of fans are waiting to see what comes next as they feed on everything they can get.

3. The Random Question: What is you favorite hobby other than writing?

I enjoy archery. In just about everything I do, writing is on my mind. Travel, being with friends, reading, running errands, etc. Everything I do is processed and analyzed in my mind before, during, and after from the standpoint of pieces for future stories. Archery is one of those activities that allows me to turn off the machine. I might still be thinking about killing zombies as I’m doing it, but aiming and hitting the target shuts off the processor for a little while.

Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in the swamps of coastal South Carolina. He left teaching after sixteen years to care for the health needs of his younger son and to pursue writing full-time. He has published Loose Ends: A Zombie Novel with Hazardous Press and Time Eaters with Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. Follow his many dark thoughts at and @AmongeZombies on Twitter.

Apex Magazine, Publishing/Editing, Slush Lesson, Writing

SLUSH LESSON: Voices on My Shoulder: The Inner Editor Vs. the Inner Critic 

(This was originally posted on the Apex Magazine blog back in December 2010.)

This is your brain: “I’m going to write that story I’ve had on my mind all weekend! It’ll be so fun!”

This is your brain on “inner editor”: “Wow, this is terrible. Is that even a word? There’s too much description, here. This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever written. The dialogue is clunky, the characters are flat, and nothing’s happening in the plot—why do I even bother? I should probably just give up.”

Any questions?

I’ve always been told that the inner editor in my head—described by so many how-to-write books as the arch nemesis of the writer—is an evil thing, best removed either entirely from the writing process, or at least compartmentalized into post-rough draft work. It’s a voice like Honest John’s, quietly whispering negativity into your ear, trying to make you slip off track and lose sight of your end goal. “Throw it away!” folks have told me; “Drown it out!” others have said. The overarching impression is that the inner editor is a no-good, washed-up, has-been jerk whose only real interest is to undermine your confidence and make you give up.

But I’ve always rebelled against the idea of completely shutting out the inner editor. I admit, I’m a bit of a contrarian. For me, re-reading a passage and deciding to rewrite it on the spot is part of my process, a guilty pleasure I rarely admitted to other writers for fear of being told—yet again—“You just have to tune that voice out or you’ll never finish.” The thing is, I know how to finish. I can complete a draft. What I struggle with is returning to a draft I’ve rushed myself through without respecting that slow, sinking dread I feel in my stomach when a scene or a character’s actions or passage of dialogue just doesn’t feel quite right.

Not everyone writes like this, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s slow and sometimes painful to edit as you go. Other writers I know are much more comfortable returning to edit a story they whipped out in a single go, and do a great job of working out the snarled knots they find to make a finished, polished draft. There are many ways to approach writing, I’ve found, and many authors who support different processes. I couldn’t deny that folks had a point about that quiet little voice that only comes out when I write: the inner voice also gives me a lot of crap, and can be very discouraging. So how should I think about the inner editor? Force for good? Or force for evil? Does the inner editor have any place in a rough draft?

This past weekend, I picked up a copy of Samuel R. Delany’s book about writing (subsequently titled, About Writing). While I was reading, I came across this statement:

If you’re going to say it, you must build up calluses against criticism—criticism from readers, from other writers, from reviewers, from editors, and from critics. Yes, praise is fine and fun. […] But the day-to-day diet, from others and, more important, from the little critic we all carry on our own shoulder, is a grim one. And it has to be so. (Delany, 108)

Prior to reading that statement, I had never thought of myself as having an inner critic. I knew I had an inner editor, but who was the inner critic? Both make me doubt myself, but are they different? Or are they the same?

I had also just finished reading his essay “On Doubts and Dreams,” included in About Writing, in which Delany had described that doubts are a good thing to have while writing. Doubts make you think, make you evaluate, make you question—sometimes rightly—parts of your work that aren’t really doing what they need to do. Or, in his words, (with the physical examples trimmed out): “Indeed, whenever you find yourself writing a cluttered, thin, or cliché sentence, you should doubt, and doubt seriously. […] What does this doubting mean? It means that a writer may just let any one of them stand. […] It means you don’t give any one of them the benefit of the doubt” (Delany, 98).

These contrasting reflections, tied together, opened up a perspective that works for me by dividing the two inner voices. The inner editor, as I’ve experienced her, is more like the editors I’ve met in real life, the ones who are well read, thoughtful, and offer encouragement as often as criticism. There’s no doubt that they question what you’ve put down, but they also don’t insist that you change something you want to keep. They respect you as the creative mind behind the work, and see themselves as a lens through which you can re-approach your writing with fresh eyes, to doubt some of those things you had left for granted, and ultimately consider their job to be making you—the writer—look better on the page. It’s a collaborative effort, not a combative one.

But then, I realized that my inner critic isn’t wholly my enemy either. Don’t get me wrong; she is a bitch. But she’s a bitch for my benefit. Her nasty little cut-downs, her eye-rolls, her snorts of disgust—they build up the calluses I need to survive getting my writing out of the desk drawer in public hands. Likewise, she reminds me with her outrageously false memories of a story being “brilliant” that even praise can be misleading. As a writer, it can be nearly impossible to know at first if a story is good or bad; the inner critic makes her snap judgments—“This is going to win a Nebula!” or “You should probably just stick this in the shredder now before anyone sees it…”—and it will be up to me and the inner editor later to determine if those statements have any merit.

Just thinking like that, I’ve started learning how to listen to the inner editor during a writing session—for my benefit—and tune out the inner critic, whose job is mostly to teach me to tune her out. Take the example I started with:

Wow, this is terrible. Is that even a word? There’s too much description, here. This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever written. The dialogue is clunky, the characters are flat, and nothing’s happening in the plot—why do I even bother? I should probably just give up.

I now see two voices in it, not one. One—the editor—is useful if only because she asks the questions I need to consider, though whether her questions should be acted upon is left to my judgment. The other one—the critic (in bold)—is a distraction I need to ignore. It’s left me much calmer in approaching my writing, because I can see both as good forces, if for different reasons.

Of course, this interpretation is my own, and probably doesn’t fit for everyone. What about you? Do you have an inner editor and an inner critic? Is there a difference? What’s your perspective?

Author Interview, Publishing/Editing, Three Questions, Writing, Zombies: More Recent Dead


ZombiesMoreRecentDead_coverMarge Simon’s poem in Zombies: More Recent Dead may only be a page long, but I can guarantee you won’t forget it. What happens when those who are supposed to love and protect you become the monsters you fear? Read “The Children’s Hour” once, twice, a hundred times–the horror lingers with each encounter.

Prepare yourself for the coming apocalypse and save yourself a copy of Zombies: More Recent Dead before it’s released in September! You can pre-order a copy from Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, or Amazon.


1. The Writing Question: Do you tend to plan your stories before you write them, or do you write and just see what you discover in the process?

With both writing and poetry, most of the time I do very little, if any, planning. It’s more fun that way (fun-work) and it suits my personality. But I do write (especially work on poems) every day.

2. The Zombie Question: What is your favorite work of zombie fiction (literary, film, comic, etc.)?

Old: I AM LEGEND – Richard Matheson

New: any of Joe McKinney’s novels, especially his first series, FLESH EATERS, APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD, etc.

3. The Random Question: What are you reading currently?

SAVAGE NIGHT by Jim Thompson. No, it’s not about zombies, but it is extremely dark.

Marge Simon’s works appear in publications such as Strange Horizons, Niteblade, DailySF Magazine, Pedestal, and Dreams & Nightmares. She edits a column for the HWA newsletter, “Blood & Spades: Poets of the Dark Side,” and serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees. She won the Strange Horizons Readers Choice Award 2010, and the SFPA’s Dwarf Stars Award 2012. In addition to her poetry, she has published two prose collections: Christina’s World (Sam’s Dot, 2008) and Like Birds in the Rain (Sam’s Dot, 2007). She won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Work in Poetry for Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet (Dark Regions Press, 2008) and again in 2013 for Vampires, Zombies & Wanton Souls (Elektrik Milk Bath Press).

Journal, Publishing/Editing, Writing

When Do You Know a Story is Dead?

trashed_pagesI have this story. I’ve been rewriting it from scratch since last February. From scratch. I think I’ve come close to four or five total drafts of this story.

I’ve changed POV. I’ve tried different tenses. I’ve added characters. I’ve altered the plot in major ways. I’ve started it in different places, hoping to find something more effective.

I love the core idea, but it’s Just. Not. Working. And I have no idea why, which is the most frustrating part. I’m beginning to get the feeling that it’s me–that I’m lacking some specific tool set to help me overcome the invisible wall that continues to block this story. It’s not that I can’t get a rough draft. I’ve written several at this stage, but each one has major problems I can *feel* in a vague, intuitive way without being able to specifically identify them.

I’ve talked before about the stages of mastery, and right now I’m sunk deep in that second, infuriating stage: Conscious Incompetence. I know it’s not working. I know I need to do something to fix it. But I’m at a complete loss to identify why it’s failing so badly.



So how do you know when it’s time to give up on a story? How do you know when the sheer amount of time put into a story surpasses the worth of the output? Chances are, it may take a while before I figure out what I’m doing so wrong on this one. I suspect it has something to do with the plot arch, but I have no idea how to make it better. It could also have to do with the dynamic of the two primary characters, and the complicated backstories for both. I at least managed to introduce a stronger speculative element in the last reworking, so that should make it more marketable once I can fix the rest of it, but everything else is such a tremendous mess, I’m not even sure where the path to the correct version begins. Each time I think I’ve got it, it implodes again.

I stall out in situations like this because I really believe in the mantra “Finish one thing before starting another,” particularly in application to writing fiction (and when creative time is so limited). It’s too easy to start a dozen projects and never get around to finishing any of them. But this seems like an exception to the rule. If you’ve worked and worked and worked at a piece, and it’s simply NOT WORKING, and no amount of forcing oneself to finish yet another draft is going to fix the issue without a major epiphany, is it better to soldier on or cut the failing story loose so you can hopefully move on to another project (and perhaps someday in the future, figure out what’s really wrong with this one)?

The Catch-22 of this situation is the author’s self-perception. Is the story *actually* failing as badly as I feel it is? Or am I being hypercritical? If it’s me being hypercritical, what’s to stop me from hitting this wall on every story I get down?

My only consolation is that I *don’t* hit this wall on every story. I’ve had plenty of stories that I had to work on a while until I was happy with them, as well as the rare (but lovely) scenario when a story has practically written itself. I only occasionally hit a wall like this that simply won’t go away.


At first, I thought I’d re-read it again, see if some forward momentum could get me through this current draft, but then I started thinking about it. Even if I finish this rough draft (which I would have to force, at this point, because it’s got a major logic fault-line through the center of it which I still don’t know how to fix with editing), it’s just another in a long line of failed rewrites. Maybe this isn’t a story I’m capable of telling at this point. Maybe I’m not quite ready. It doesn’t mean I won’t be able to fix it someday in the future, if the solution presents itself, but I have a feeling that there are some fundamental things I need to learn first. Hopefully, once I learn them, I’ll be able to resurrect this story.

Until then, I’m going to call it: Time of death is 10:21AM.

Author Interview, Journal, Publishing/Editing, Three Questions, Zombies: More Recent Dead

Zombies: More Recent Dead Update

ZombiesMoreRecentDead_coverAs September draws ever nearer, we’re getting into zombie hunting season and the preparations for the release of Zombies: More Recent Dead, edited by Paula Guran and published through Prime Books! This is going to be a great anthology, if I do say so myself. There are some truly amazing talents included in the pages of this book.

In anticipation of the book’s release on September 10th, 2014, I’ll be running a series of short, Three Question interviews to introduce you to some of the great folks in this book, and to give you an idea of what to expect between the pages. First up is Marge Simon! I’ll have her interview up tomorrow along with info on how to pre-order the book. :)


In the meantime, here’s the current ToC (in alphabetical order) to whet your appetite for zombies!

Joanne Anderton, “Trail of Dead”
Michael Arnzen, “Rigormarole” (poem)
Marie Brennan, “What Still Abides
Mike Carey, “Iphigenia in Aulis”
Jacques L. Condor (Mak a Tai Meh), “Those Beneath the Bog”
Neil Gaiman, “The Day the Saucers Came” (poem)
Roxane Gay, “There is No ‘E’ in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You Or We”
Ron Goulart, “I Waltzed with a Zombie”
Eric Gregory, “The Harrowers”
William Jablonsky, “The Death and Life of Bob”
Shaun Jeffrey, “Til Death Do Us Part”
Matthew Johnson, “The Afflicted”
Stephen Graham Jones, “Rocket Man”
Joy Kennedy-O’Neill “Aftermath”
Caitlín R. Kiernan, “In The Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection”
Nicole Kornher-Stace, “Present”
Joe R. Lansdale, “The Hunt: Before and The Aftermath”
Shira Lipkin, “Becca at the End of the World”
David Liss, “What Maisie Knew”
Jonathan Maberry, “Jack & Jill”
Alex Dally MacFarlane, “Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead (572-571 BCE)”
Maureen McHugh, “The Naturalist”
Lisa Mannetti, “Resurgam”
Joe McKinney, “The Day the Music Died”
Tamsyn Muir, “Chew”
Holly Newstein, “Delice”
Cat Rambo, “Love, Resurrected”
Carrie Ryan, “What We Once Feared”
Marge Simon, “The Children’s Hour” (poem)
Maggie Slater, “A Shepherd of the Valley”
Simon Strantzas, “Stemming the Tide”
Charles Stross, “Bit Rot”
Genevieve Valentine, “The Gravedigger of Konstan Spring”
Carrie Vaughn, “Kitty’s Zombie New Year”
Don Webb, “Pollution”
Jay Wilburn, “Dead Song”

Find out more at:

Apex Magazine, Free Stuff!, Journal, Publishing/Editing

Apex Update: Book Giveaways & Free Samples

While I’m technically still on unofficial maternity leave from Apex Publications, I’m always following what the good folks there are up to, and thought I’d share a few things going on there this week.

First off: Apex is doing a couple of great book giveaways, until July 31st, over at Goodreads for their two newest releases*, THE APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3 edited by Lavie Tidhar, and WAR STORIES edited by Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00029]About THE APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3: “These stories run the gamut from science fiction, to fantasy, to horror. Some are translations (from German, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Swedish), and some were written in English. The authors herein come from Asia and Europe, Africa and Latin America. Their stories are all wondrous and wonderful, and showcase the vitality and diversity that can be found in the field. They are a conversation, by voices that should be heart. And once again, editor Lavie Tidhar and Apex Publications are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to bring them to our readers.”–Apex Publications



WarStories_CoverAbout WAR STORIES: “Join Joe Haldeman, Linda Nagata, Ken Liu, Jay Posey, Karin Lowachee, and many more as they take you on a tour of the battlefields, from those hurtling through space in spaceships and winding along trails deep in the jungle with bullets whizzing overhead, to the ones hiding behind calm smiles, waiting patiently to reveal itself in those quiet moments when we feel safest. War Stories brings us 23 stories of the impacts of war, showcasing the systems, combat, armor, and aftermath without condemnation or glorification.”–Apex Publications



Both contests end on July 31, so you still have eight days left to enter for a chance to win either of these great collections!

Also, if you’ve yet to sample the sheer awesome caliber of what you’ll find in WORLD SF 3, the current issue of Apex Magazine includes Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s story, “Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods” (Thailand). It’s amazing, and free, so definitely check it out!

*I did the interior design for the print version of both of these titles! At some point I’ll have to do a post about book formatting work. :)

Journal, Publishing/Editing, The Zombie Feed, Writing

Zombies: More Recent Dead Announcement

ZombiesMoreRecent-200Hooray! The news is up on the Prime Books website, so I can now proudly and with happy-dancing proclaim that my zombie short story “A Shepherd of the Valley”–originally appearing in The Zombie Feed Anthology Vol. 1–is going to be reprinted in Zombies: More Recent Dead. This is a huge deal for me, in part because it’s my first reprint sale, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) because my little zombie tale will be appearing alongside some truly amazing talent–Maureen McHugh, Joe R. Lansdale, Neil Gaiman, Caitlín R Kiernan, Genevieve Valentine, and Cat Rambo among many others. I’m so excited to be included in this project, and can’t wait to get my copy when the book comes out this September. I’ve read a couple of these stories already (particularly Maureen McHugh’s “The Naturalist” which alone is worth checking out this anthology to read), so I anticipate an amazing set of stories.

EEEEEK! So excited about this! This was the good news I came home to after the wedding in April. ^_^ Hooray! Hooray! Happy dance time:

Dancing Bear Gif

Journal, Publishing/Editing, Writing

Lessons Learned from Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z_coverI picked up Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald at Logan Airport an hour before my folks and I flew off to Long Beach, CA. I was originally looking to pick up a copy of Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, but they didn’t have copies yet. I’ll have to track that down… But Z had been on my to-read list since I saw it recommended in the New York Times Book Review.

Let’s lay it out plain: I’ve read The Great Gatsby a couple of times, but not since high school, and while I enjoyed the book, it didn’t permanently imprint itself on my adolescent soul. I knew Fitzgerald was something of a struggling artist, in that while he hit upon some great fame in his time, Gatsby wasn’t received as well as he’d hoped, and I vaguely remembered that he’d also had something of a drinking problem. I knew he and his wife, Zelda, had a tumultuous relationship. But that’s pretty much the entirety of my knowledge of the Fitzgeralds.

I picked up this book looking to find a relaxing beach read, something I could jump in and out of with ease, preferably before bed, all the while checking a to-read book off my list. What I got instead, was a thrill-ride, a few bouts of yelling at characters, and some insight into the triumphs and pitfalls of writing life.

This is a fictionalized version of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s lives together, but Therese Anne Fowler made it so real. The characters are both deeply flawed, but also deeply admirable even as they succumb to their various pitfalls. Scott’s alcoholism, procrastination, control issues, and immutable self-doubt makes you both want to hug him and choke him simultaneously. Zelda’s crumbling sanity, her entrapment in a world not yet ready for women’s total independence from their husbands, and her thwarted ambitions (less from her own production than from the interference of those who “know best”), is soul-crushing and sublime. There were chapters where I was ready to jump into the pages and sucker-punch Scott. There were chapters where I just leaned back and thought, “To hell with it: destroy yourselves. See how that works out for you.”

The glimpses of other celebrities from the time, too, adds to the realization of how small the publishing world really was back in those days, and in some ways, still is today. Sure, there are a lot more authors trying to make their waves in the oceans of publication, but when I go to conventions, I almost always run into people I know, or people who know the people I know. Connections are everywhere, as they were even back in the 1920s. Generations of writers who mature and begin publishing around the same times grow up into these cliques of “famous people who knew each other” (C.S. Lewis and Tolkien hung out?! WHAT?!) as if their talent magically brought them together, when really they’ve all just been struggling at the craft together, sometimes for years.

Anyway, that’s the general gist of the story. What struck me, really, was the way Fowler demonstrated Scott’s creative challenges: the procrastination, the partying and alcoholism, the deep desire to aid new writers while neglecting his own work, the poor reviews or lackluster sales, the ego (and immolating self-doubt), and the anguish all of those caused him. In my mind, I guess I’d always imagined Fitzgerald as this chill, hip writer in Hollywood with a bunch of short stories and novels under his belt, despite being a bit of a party hound. This version of his life showed a far more conflicted individual, wrought with the same crippling self-doubt I see both in myself and in so many writers I’ve encountered. I see the urge to skip out on writing for the day, the excuses, and the anguish that follows weeks, months, and years of not producing, which can so easily wear us down. I see, too, that necessary ego–the voice that pushes you on, tells you “you’ve got this,” that you just might be one of the few who “makes it,” maybe even does better than just “making it,” and pushes right on to being considered one of those “famous people who knew each other.”

This novel portrays a Scott that is anxious, dogged, indebted, and his own worst critic. It shows him as a man of great ambition and a great many personal hurdles to overcome. He wants so badly to be considered great, wants so much to find the validation that his work means something, that his name will linger through the centuries among the best of the best. He wants it so much, it actually hurts to read about it at times, because who hasn’t felt that way, at least occasionally? But his own ambition and sense of ineptitude eat him alive.

Simultaneously, Zelda’s story is one I thankfully don’t have much personal experience with. When my husband came to join us over the weekend in Long Beach for my sister’s wedding, I probably hugged him a little extra tight, because I was just so damned grateful that he’s so supportive and loving. No one would argue Zelda and Scott didn’t have a passionate romance, or even that they didn’t love each other right to the end, but it was a tough era for being a married woman with her own ambitions and hopes and dreams. I remember reading The Feminine Mystique a few years ago, and Betty Friedan’s description of what psychologists in the 1950s called “housewife syndrome” felt oh so familiar when reading about the frustrations Zelda encountered. Publishing under her husband’s name because it would make more money, but then having that accomplishment treated as if it were only because of his name that the stories were worth anything; her painting exhibit titled in reviews as “a wife’s artwork”; or her obsessive bid to be a professional ballerina because it was the only thing that made her feel worthwhile being thwarted by assertions from her husband and doctors that she should find all her contentment and happiness in the home, being a wife and mother (even though they had a nanny who took care of their daughter, and Scott was out and/or drunk a good chunk of the time)–it was exhausting and heartbreaking to read. Ladies, we’ve come a long way.

This is a great book, and I do think aspiring writers ought to check it out, if only to see what early fame and too much self-doubt can do to someone in this career. It’s not a relaxing read. From their whirlwind courtship to the New York parties, to Paris and the fighting and mutual destruction, it’ll keep you on your toes. But it also made me want to write. I finished this book and felt like I had a year’s worth of creative energy backlogged inside me. I couldn’t wait to get home and dive in, get things out there, get working. There are a few other things that I think contributed to this, not the least of which is the impending June deadline for the Little Guy, but I’ve been raring to go ever since, and these last two weeks have been more productive than the last couple of months combined.

Maybe a bit of the Roaring 20’s rubbed off on me, too.