“A Reaper Reminisces” Short Story

I meant to write a full short story for Halloween in honor of a few friends here. Then I fell very sick this week and haven’t felt like doing anything more than staring at a wall. The story won’t be nearly as effective coming later in the year, but I still intend to finish it. I needed to share a creative piece in the midst of everything else going on. I’m devastated that I’ve been falling woefully behind on posts this month, but I still hope to progress on this blog before my time in DC is up! Who knows, maybe I’ll finish that short story sooner rather than later. Though I’m doubtful, knowing that November is NaNoWriMo. So I pulled a story I wrote ages ago for your reading pleasure (I hope).

I can’t remember when I began writing this, or why. Probably a time when I was quite heartbroken for reasons forgotten to me now. But I pulled it from the depths of my drive to share for this Halloween. Yes, maybe it’s more about the idea of love than an immortal reaper of souls, but I felt it could still be fitting.

On that note, happy Halloween!


I do not claim to have felt love, nor do I understand the justification of such a feeling. I have only witnessed the pain it has caused. Love gives up, gives out, and ends lives. It is a wonder to me why so many put their hearts at risk, especially when the risk is so clearly unworthy of them. Humanity would be much more formidable if not for the presence of love. Humanity would live much longer.

Love is not weakness, as some believe. No, love is very strong indeed. However, to love is to die. To survive, one simply must not love.

To my knowledge, there is no emotion that has demanded more death than love. Since my knowledge is considerable, you should assume that as truth. Hatred is fearsome, but it simmers from a fiery base in love, whether of self or others. Tragedy sits heavily on the minds of many, but none is so gripping as the grief of lost love. Anger, exhilaration, sadness, fear… They pale in comparison to the loves I have seen.

I remember the same loves that humanity holds in history. Tristan and Isolde, Samson and Delilah, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Antony and Cleopatra all spun fantastic tales to be told over and over through the ages. I was there to witness them all. I bore witness to the true pain that no modern mind could comprehend, no matter how they imagine. Only I know the true tragedy, and only I wonder how different the situations may have been with the extrication of love from the equation.

I will not deny the beauty of love. It is stunning and commanding in it’s awesome power. It is the basis for belief and hope, among all the negative inspirations it also spawns. To be fair, I have seen many good born of love in my years. Those same years when loved ones were gripped by tragedy, love united them. Love creates a bond between people that cannot be broken, however much it is beaten or twisted. Humanity is not all bad. Love draws humanity to save itself with moves of service and compassion. It is as if humanity could not exist without an all-powerful love.

No, I cannot claim to explain love. I cannot ever understand it.

But I agree that humanity would fundamentally be different without love.

Without love, humanity could not be humanity.

Perhaps that is justification enough.

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Informational Interview 2/3: Jana Laiz

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The Twelfth Stone and Weeping Under This Same Moon
by Jana Laiz

Jana’s Website
The Twelfth Stone on Amazon
Weeping Under This Same Moon on Amazon

When I found out that we were required to conduct informational interviews for our portfolio, I immediately began to fret. Writers who are willing to take time from their busy schedule to talk to aspiring writers are hard to come across. Writers also aren’t easy to find. It’s not so easy as to go online and search in order to find someone. Thankfully, I stumbled across a connection to Jana, and I’m so glad I did. My roommate here went to high school with Jana’s daughter and gave me her website to look up. When I was able to interview Jana, I connected with every word she said. She has a brilliant personality, and I can’t wait to buy The Twelfth Stone for my collection (No, I have not yet read it, but it seems right up my alley. As soon as I have money, it will be at the top of my list).

Jana is clearly a gifted writer, as her novel Weeping Under This Same Moon was deemed ForeWord Magazine’s book of the year gold medalist, and some of her other books have been silver medalists and finalists. She also has enough of a passion for English that she works to share that passion with interested students as an educator. Though she has taught numerous subjects, she is certified for ESL, TESOL, and Elementary education. As I could never be a teacher myself, it is encouraging to see writers who can teach and inspire writing in others.

Unfortunately, I did not get a direct transcript of Jana’s interview, so the responses below are paraphrased, drawing as much as possible from her direct words. I hope that many writers find the same familiarity and affirmation in Jana’s words as I did. Anything in bold is my commentary or questions.


What drove you to become a writer?

Jana has been writing since she was 6. Around then, her mom gave her an old notebook she’d used in high school, then Jana’s grandfather gave her a teeny-tiny pencil and, boom, she became a writer. “I love to make words and put them together to make them sound beautiful,” Jana says.

What experiences or ideas have inspired some of your novels?

Jana is most proud of her 2008 book, Weeping Under the Same Moon, which was inspired from a real life experience of working with Vietnamese refugees. She loves teaching and wants her work to make a difference in the world. So she picks topics that she’s passionate about to entertain others, to inspire others, but also to make a difference.

How do you conduct the research for your stories? Do you have any resources you might suggest?

“The internet is a great resource. Always go to legitimate sources, on the internet and at the library.” She has also had personal experiences sway her writing.

How do you plan your stories? Or do you at all?

“I do a lot of daydreaming and a lot of walking and thinking. Books take a lot of time to percolate. It’s very organic.” Jana begins a foundation for her characters, but after that, they build themselves and grow on their own. In The Twelfth Stone, one of her favorite characters appeared out of nowhere at a bus stop and ended up changing the direction of the story. “I love him. I think he’s a real person. Whether he’s from the recesses of my mind or another plane, I don’t know, but he’s real.” Which I think many writers would agree with. We’re not crazy, we promise. Well… Not too crazy.

What is your writing process like? Chronological or scene-by-scene? And how do you edit (or re-write) your own work?

“Sometimes I can write for ten hours straight and it feels like an hour. Other times I sit for ten minutes and it feels like 10 hours.” Jana writes chronologically from beginning to end, but when she edits she often moves scenes around. “I like to say I’m eclectic. I always read it out loud; I think it’s absolutely critical.” After reworking her draft, Jana gives the manuscript to her daughter for editing, then gives it to a professional editor.

How do you publish your work after the process? What made you decide to take that route?

Jana is commercially published, in part because she created her own publishing company. “I had a great agent when I did Twelfth Stone before Twilight and Harry Potter, but we got a ton of fantastic rejections.” At the time, publishers didn’t believe young adult fantasy had much of a market and were largely unwilling to risk underwhelming sales. HP was a decisive turning point – boy were they wrong. So she started her own company and has published her own books. It has gone really well, to the point of potential movie deals. Although she has to work to create her own platform, she agrees it’s ultimately worth the effort.

How do you balance writing with the “real” world?

“Make time.” Why does that make it sound so easy? Jana is a full time writer and also a teacher for ESL. “I teach to feed my writing habit. Even when I’m not writing words on paper, I’m thinking about stories. And don’t ever delete,” she adds. “You might need it one day.”

What is it like to write for a span of audiences? How do you adapt your writing?

“I don’t really adapt my writing. I write to please myself. I don’t say, I’m gonna write a YA novel, I just write. Maybe I’m young at heart and yet also an adult, because a lot of stories I write have crossover audiences. Don’t make rules for yourself. Write for the love of it. And if you have a great story to tell, you’ll have an audience to read it.”

What advice do you have aspiring writers?

“An Irish singer told me when I was working on Twelfth Stone, ‘Don’t give up one minute before the miracle.'” That is stunning advice, really, when facing an entirely objective field. The will always be rejection, but giving up means you could miss the miracle. Then Jana had one more piece of advice to add:

“If your editor tells you to kill it: kill it, then look at it, and then make the decision you feel is best for the story. Don’t let their word be law; it’s still your story to tell.”

Thank you so much for your time! It was a huge help.

“When your first novel comes out, send me a copy. Autographed!”


And I absolutely will! Jana was a great connection to make, and I hope to stay in touch with her past the requirements of this program!

History and Interests for All – RGADC

Why should I go to Washington? Freshman Renee thought. There’s nothing for me there.

At the time, I was a theatre education major who really just wanted to bring stories to life. In fact, I didn’t even want the educator part tacked on to my degree. Since then my motivations haven’t changed, only my methods. I still bring stories to life, only by writing them instead of performing them. Yet, when I thought of this internship opportunity Freshman year, I wouldn’t have seen myself here because I couldn’t imagine where I’d be placed.

What were they going to do? Set me to acting on a street corner to gain experience in my field?

But, oh, how wrong I was. There is something for everyone in DC. Especially for a few majors who rarely take advantage of it, but definitely should.

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(Beauty at the Kennedy Center, the gem of the city for a thespian.)

Theatre/Music/Arts Major:

I’ll start with this because I have experience here. My good friend here in DC was stationed at the Kennedy Center for her internship. Granted, she does the business side of work at the theater, which is to be expected, and is also very important to be familiar with. Still, she has had the opportunity to attend Evita for a discounted price, the upcoming opera La Boheme for free, and has met famous names and headliners in various art fields. Additionally, there are free musical, comedy, or dance performances every night at 6, in case you don’t get your fill of art solely on the events you get to see.

Not to mention, the arts are all over DC. Last weekend was art-all-night. Literally a night full of arts and beautiful things. Also, the other night my friends attended a party for upcoming playwrights hoping to get their works performed on stage. If I’d stuck with theater, these opportunities would have thrilled me, regardless of whether or not I was acting.

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(Don’t even get me started on the beautiful art galleries we have here. Cochran, pictured above, just closed for remodeling, but there are so many other wonderful things to see as well, like the Portrait Gallery pictured below.)

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Education Major:

I feel that this internship is a missed opportunity for many education majors. There are so many options that would be exciting experiences. One of the first internships I interviewed for was at 826DC, a non-profit that works with students to make writing fun and interesting. It would have been perfect for an education major. Or maybe having a job at the Department of Education, like my friend has, would be a good fit. Even my internship has aspects of education as much as we work with educating the public about NARA’s functionality and our holdings here. We even work a Constitution exploration lab with school groups that come in, which is way cooler than anything I got to do as a student on field trips.

Except maybe for that one trip we did to the Dr. Pepper factory where we invented, marketed, and bottled our own brand of soda. I still insist that Zip Zap would have been a big hit. And it’s still my favorite fictional soda.

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(Another Capitol picture? I see it every day. All roads lead to the Capitol.)

Political/History/Law/Criminal Justice Major:

Okay, but do I really need to explain this one? It’s Washington, D.C.

Sports Nerds:

The Nat’s recent loss was a tragedy for the city, and I don’t even call myself a baseball fan.

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(But it was fun to see a game with friends!)

Party Scene:

I won’t touch on this much. We’re all upstanding students here at TWC, for the most part (I’ve heard horror stories), but just know that there is one. If that appeals to people.

Foodies:

There’s a Potbelly’s on almost every corner. But that’s not necessarily what I mean. There are so many unique food places here. I wish I could try every restaurant in Chinatown, especially the Wok and Roll place that used to be the Surratt boarding house. We’ve got the big name places like the Cheesecake Factory, which I love. It’s not cheap, but their menu is incredible. The miso salmon is to die for. And dare I mention the one and only, Georgetown Cupcakes? Which I still haven’t had, but hear only the highest praise about.

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(Because if I’m going to be here, I may as well eat in the place where Lincoln’s assassin and his cohorts met to take down the Union.)

Non-Profits and Causes:

There are places to serve everywhere. My roommates internship works with the homeless population of DC. This is where policy is made. Where better to make a policy change than here in DC, be it in education, animal welfare, or Title IX?

Sciency Stuff:

Because, let’s face it, there’s a Smithsonian for everything. And plenty of other places too.

Foreign Students:

Foreign affairs is a big market for internships. A lot of the foreign students I’ve met have loved spending time in the US, while also working in something applicable for them to take away.

And Every American:

I believe, even if none of the above appeal to you, that you could find something here to love, without even looking too hard. I also believe that every American should have the chance to visit D.C. as the heart of the country. A power resides in the city, an ongoing heartbeat that drives the country to action. This is history. This is present. This is the future of America. Seeing Arlington is powerful. Seeing the Capitol, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress is powerful. Seeing the Constitution is so powerful. I see it every day, and it never gets old.

I refuse to take my country for granted, regardless of if I agree with a person in Congress, or back a law that is passed. The United States of America is a wonderful, desirable place to live. There are flaws, but there will always be flaws. This is no utopia, and it shouldn’t be. We learned that from The Hunger Games, and other dystopian fiction novels. So admittedly, I have that Key song in my heart, beating with the city, and playing with the pride of being a part of this for a semester.

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(She is eternal – long before nation’s were drawn. When no flag flew, when no armies stood my land was born… Don’t mind that this is a song from Chess and is actually about Russia. It’s still beautiful.)

To Be Both Tourist and Guide – RGADC

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(She’s my mom; she’s my best friend; we’re silly.)

When I first arrived, my impression of D.C. was “white.” The Washington Monument. The Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol. And the most obvious: The White House. All white. All pure and symbolic.

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(As my Nana pointed out, Washington D.C. is powerful. It is impressive. It is timeless.)

As a sucker for symbolism, I shouldn’t be surprised that I love the city as much as I do. And I do love it. I get a thrill when I so much as look at the buildings out the window. And I knew this would be my adventure. I knew I would have the time of my life. I wasn’t even nervous or afraid.

I still didn’t expect living here to come so naturally.

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(Though I do still miss and am loyal to Texas.)

History was one of my strongest subjects in school, second only to English. I know the gist. I remember the gist. The things I’ve learned and retained since arriving in D.C. go deeper than the subjects taught in school. D.C. is built by the personality of history, not just the facts. That personality is visible everywhere: Watergate, the Smithsonians, the Eisenhower Executive Building, the Blair-Lee House, the Kennedy Center, etc.

In the first week I was here, my supervisors at the Archives and the professors at TWC all spouted off information as naturally as leaves change for fall. I never thought I’d be able to do that. Hearing them talk made me aspire to learn more. Maybe someday, I’d be a wealth of information to others, and I could summon it as needed for books, stories, and projects.

I just didn’t expect that to actually happen.

When Mom told me over the phone that she and Nana would join me in D.C. for the annual TWC gala, I was overjoyed. Mom is coming back with the rest of my immediate family for Thanksgiving, but this past weekend was Nana’s chance to see the city. We made the most of our girl’s getaway with every second.

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(We crammed a lot of sightseeing into three days.)

Except, even though we went to several places I’d never seen before (like the Vietnam memorial and Arlington cemetery), I didn’t feel like a tourist. The transition has been so smooth, so natural. I feel like a part of D.C. and I’ve only been here a month now. I feel like it’s my city, even though it isn’t. I think I take a piece of every place I’ve been as my own – Austin, Chiang Mai, and now D.C. – to keep in my heart.

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(Speaking of D.C. being powerful, the memorials here seal the deal.)

And I’ve done that in only a month. Walking around Lafayette Square, and even the National Mall, I felt more like Mom and Nana’s pocket tour guide than a tourist. I talked their ears off with random facts and tidbits on just about everything we passed. I also got tasked with all navigation, but that’s only halfway because I know my way around D.C. and halfway because I know how to work Google Maps effectively on a smartphone.

It got even worse when we reached the National Archives portion of our trip. We spent around an hour in the museum portion of the building as I pointed out my favorite documents and exhibits. I rattled off facts about our holdings, the Constitution, and the location of the nearest bathroom. All were things that I didn’t even realize I knew so well until I was given a time to share them.

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(Also, I’d never been in the Constitution Avenue entrance to the Archives before, so that was new.)

Really, I worried that my trove of trivia tid-bits on D.C. would drive them crazy, but they insist that they enjoyed it. I hope so. It felt good to share what I’ve learned. A lot of these stories are so cool, but history textbooks never touch them. I’d have been fascinated to learn about Dolley Madison in high school. Especially since, apparently, we’re related to her? So Nana says. Which is pretty darn cool.

No matter where I go from here, the personality of history will stick with me. The names and places never mentioned in a classroom, but that meant so much to this country and to me here, won’t go forgotten. I never expected to feel so natural here, but I am so glad I do. Being a part of D.C. is truly a beautiful thing.

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(But no matter how much I love living here, I’ll still desperately miss these lovely ladies.)