Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

Mailing List

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I am starting a mailing list in anticipation of the release of my memoir TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER (and of course, after that–my novel, THE GOLEM OF SEOUL).

I welcome you to sign up for monthly-ish updates from me.

The updates will have some personal content as it pertains to writing. I’ll also be sharing my writing process, my publishing experience, favorites, travel, etc. A little like this blog, but also different.

And hopefully more exclusive–for instance, when my book trailer is released, my mailing list readers will be the first to see it!

Additionally, I plan on holding giveaways to members of the mailing list–for example, signed books…and possibly tote bags or other schwag I might dream up.

Please sign up below. And thank you for becoming a part of my inner circle of readers.

Subscribe to my mailing list

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The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

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(A picture of me in 2013)

In 2013, I lost everything I’d built my life upon. My marriage. My previous identity. Money. I was heartbroken and dealing with postpartum depression. I was struggling with motherhood, and the challenges of this new life.

But unbeknownst to me at the time, I found my identity and strength and friends and love and I began a relationship with my newborn daughter. Everything was gone but I had the opportunity to replenish my life with things and people most important to me as a newly untethered individual.

I remember telling O that I had one year to really make a change. That for a year I would be at home as a new mother and I would have no money and that that would be the year I would double down on dreams. Everything’s gone to shit, I told him. I have nothing else left to lose. I have to do only the things I love to do and see where they lead me.

I felt helpless and so I did the one thing that did not make me feel helpless. I doubled down on writing.

In 2013, I wrote the essay that was a turning point in my career, MINT and it was published in The Rumpus by Roxane Gay. It was not as widely read as some of my future work, but this was the publication that changed my life.

That essay led to an opportunity to write something for BuzzFeed in 2014. I wrote an essay about my stroke and recovery. The essay went viral and led to a 2-book deal with Ecco.

All I did in 2015 was write my memoir. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Two months ago, I turned in my memoir manuscript. Yesterday, I finished copy edits.

In 2017, on February 14, TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER will be published and out in the world.

I did not do this alone.

Thank you.

2013 was an enormous fall. Here is a picture of me in 2013, sliding down the Codornices park concrete slide. On that day, I decided that as miserable as I felt, I would seek a minute of pure joy, somehow. My thinking was that I could hold on to those few seconds and say, “Today I felt good, even if for ten seconds.”

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(Also, falling can feel good–as evidenced by the slide).

That is how I clawed my way back. I would hold on to the small parts of good. Even if the good was just one percent of my day. I would make that one percent, larger, somehow. I would hold on to any part of happiness, even if fleeting.

I would focus on happiness. I would be aware of misery and I would try to deal with the bills and legal paperwork one by one. My worries were many–at one point I wondered how it was that I would pay for diapers. I would not ignore these concerns. But I would look at a sliver of happiness while dealing with the unpleasant.

And eventually, the happiness would dominate.

And yes, it has.

Book Gestation

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It takes a number of steps and people and coordination to bring a memoir into the world. (It also takes work).

The essay that sparked this whole process. Editors and agents. A book proposal to write. A book deal. Then, write write write write wriiiite.

After twelve months of writing…GOOOOOOAAAALL:  a completed and accepted final draft of TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER. I’ve never written at such a quick pace.

My novel, on the other hand, took twelve YEARS to write and I’m still not done rewriting it. And it’s due soon, to my editors! 

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So we’re now in the copyedits stage. Many eyes have scanned the pages. An intrepid and sharp-eyed copyeditor combed through my manuscript for necessary changes over the past month, and now it is in my hands again. My penchant for unnecessary commas is clear to me as I accept changes proofread the proofreader. (Shazam! I caught a couple of things he/she missed!). A legal team has read the manuscript to ensure all things are square on the litigious front.

Blurbs have been courted. Bound manuscript copies have been sent out for said blurbs.

I have cover art–it’s beautiful. I can’t wait to show it to you.

The advance reader copies (ARCs) will be out within a couple of months and the publishing sales team readied.

My editors asked that I make a short video for the sales team–I could have shot something simple with my iPhone (what’s the selfie version of an iPhone video?), but I’d already been pondering a book trailer for a few weeks . A good book trailer can be amazing, a bad one, ineffective (and a major expense).

The fact that a book trailer could achieve two needs at once got me off the fence.

So this week, we shot my book trailer.

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I get to have Oprah Lighting! Well. Sort of; I get to be lit up! I had to powder my face and everything.

The entire living room got lighting. Including my bookshelves, the backdrop to some of the book trailer.

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It’s hard to talk about my book and not make it sound cheezy. I’m astounded that people even want to hear about my story about having been sick and then getting better. But along the way, I learned lessons about wellness and resilience, and it was gratifying to write them down.

And I can’t wait until my book is out in the world–the official publication date is February 14, 2017.

 

Getting In Shape To Write

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I turned my memoir manuscript in, and it’s time to move forward to my next book, before the PR demands for my memoir ramp up. So between now and January 2017, it’s novel-time. It’s due in a few months.  It’s done but not done done done.

Whereas my memoir took 12 months to write, my novel has taken 12 *years* of effort. It was born in the midst of my MFA’s novel writing workshop, ushered on by Victor LaValle. I’ve rewritten it three times. Thrown away more words than I’ve eventually kept. It waited for me to recover from my stroke. Witnessed the birth of my child, the end of my marriage, and its book contract. It waited for me to live a life, to grow up and meet it. To be able to write the damn thing.

Unlike my memoir, my novel requires so much more discipline and rigor from me. It wants a tidier home. My kitchen is tidier than it has been in a couple of years. And it requires me to get in physical shape. Literally–I can’t write my novel unless I’m running or doing yoga on a regular basis. It goes back to the discipline and rigor this novel demands from me.

I went on a run today.

Confession: I haven’t gone on a run in….years. Over two years. The last time I went for a run, I could run 30 minutes easily. This time–nope. I cut short my run by 15 minutes.

Further confession: I wasn’t running for 15 minutes straight. I was doing “intervals.”

This bout of exercise felt like running (see what I did there?) your hand in the wrong direction on velvet fabric. Not what I expected. Uncomfortable. Dissonant.

But getting back into my novel reeks of this discomfort–like wearing jeans after having worn sweatpants for two years.

Confession: I’ve been living in soft pants for 2 years.

I’ll keep running and getting back into shape. And I’ll keep working on my novel, and getting it into shape. And my novel will shape me.

In other news–there is a family of foxes in our neighborhood. They’re beautiful and delightful to spot in our urban setting. My daughter spotted a baby fox/kit, and she couldn’t stop talking about it.

Then again, we have no more chickens.

 

On Characters

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I spent the last few months as an adjunct professor in Fresno State’s MFA program–teaching a graduate fiction workshop and meeting the next generation of emerging writers. It’s been an edifying experience on many dimensions. But first, I had to go in with my own pedagogy as it pertains to successful workshop.

For the most part, my approach centered around being craft-focused.

Successful content is based on craft execution. What you want to write is up to you–whether you pick something difficult/ challenging/ seriously fucked up/ controversial (e.g., writing outside your own race) or something familiar, you better make that content sing. So we focused on craft in workshop. For instance, characters.

Let’s begin.

The character you never want in your real life is the best kind of character to have in your stories. Not everyone can be a good guy. Not everyone can be intelligent or make kind choices. Your bad neighbor is essential to your story.

Character is something strong and original and deep in a person’s nature. Generosity is revered in workshop. As is kindness. As is honesty. How do you tell someone they have a booger in their nose? Do you even tell someone? Which is the more generous, kind, and honest approach? There is a difference between pointing and laughing at a booger versus telling them hey, you have a booger versus saying man people with boogers have hygiene problems–by the way you have a booger versus not saying anything at all, thus allowing that person to continue to navigate the world with a booger hanging out of their nose.

The best of course, is to also hand the person a facial tissue. Help out.

Yes. Character is important in workshop. Characters are important in writing. Character and characters can and should be developed.

Character can be a letter or symbol. You can name them whatever you want. They can symbolize so much. We all do.

There is a cast of characters in my novel. Each has a story. Each achieves something in the narrative. Have purpose. Come to workshop with purpose.

Cast also means to throw with force. The cast of characters are cast into a traumatic world. I put them there. And then they keep themselves there, and then they each, one by one, climb out. And as writers, we must not keep them in their cast–the characters at some point come to life, and we must listen to their needs and desires. We cannot be tyrants. What is it they want? What prevents them from that desire?

When my daughter was a toddler, she did not remember the name of the movie she watched, but did remember its characters. Frozen became “Elsa,” and How To Train Your Dragon became “Hiccup and Toothless” and Finding Nemo is simply “Nemo.” And Madagascar is “Move it Move it”–that’s a craft lesson of a different kind, focused on themes. Themes are also important, but that is not what I’m addressing here.

If you want someone to read 200 pages of your writing, your characters must be memorable, must be endearing. Why else would we read all seven of the Harry Potter books? We want to know what happens to Neville and Hermione and Ron and Harry and Sirius and Luna and even Snape. Especially Snape. Remember–the character you never want in your real life, is what you want in your stories. That person is Snape.

Furthermore, your character must be strong. The voice of your story is also what keeps your reader enthralled. Listen to your characters. And so will your readers.

It takes what it takes

BookDealI’ve been heads down, writing my manuscript. I’m determined to make my deadline to my editor, and even more motivated to finish before the deadline. After years of writing without a deadline, doing so is…awesome.

I live a hobbit life. I don’t much leave my house, except to take my daughter to and from preschool or buy groceries. It’s like an extended residency. It takes a lot of focus to write, and I want very much not to be distracted.

But in between, at AWP and other public space, I’m met with congratulations for having sold two books. It feels good to hear such support, even though it also feels awkward to hear and receive and intake–is that really me? That’s not me, is it?  Huh. And then I’m relieved when the conversation moves on to other topics.

I hesitated before announcing my book deal. The official announcement in Publishers Marketplace went out in early March when only four people in my life, knew. My dear agent forwarded me a copy of what went out, and well–reading it gave me immense delight.

And I still didn’t publicize my deal, because I needed time to understand what this milestone meant to me, before I absorbed the reactions of other people. So that I could hold the personal experience near and dear, even within the public realm. I wanted clarity so that my personal feelings about this writing milestone would not be affected by public reaction. And that I could in the end, be moved and unmoved, in the healthiest of ways.

What did it mean to me?

It took awhile for me to understand what my book deals meant to me. The negotiation itself was exhilarating, but made me a nervous wreck; I had vertigo and nausea and high blood pressure and insomnia. I knew what I had to do, but my body just fell apart. Wow. Who knew that that would be the way I would react to the culmination of a dream?

But when the hubbub died down, and handshakes were made and before the deal went public, I had a chance to breathe and ponder. It didn’t mean that I was “finally a writer”; I have always been a writer. This wasn’t my end goal. Instead, this was the beginning of something, not the end.

This was the beginning of my new life. I’d turned the boat around. In my darkest hour, I stood up and reached for good things and through hard work, made them real. I made healthy choices and channeled all my pain into my work, and turned shit into fertilizer into blooms. I’d shown my daughter how to stand up and make positive change. I’d doubled down when I had nothing to lose.

It is the beginning of a new life, one defined on my own terms.

And that feels amazing. And that is what I hold most dear.

 

My publishing arc was an atypical and fortunate trajectory, one I couldn’t have anticipated when I started writing fiction in earnest twelve years ago.

Twelve. Years. Ago.

When I was talking to editors, after my BuzzFeed stroke essay went viral, more than a few asked me where I had been all these years. I said, “Well, I’ve been writing my novel.”

It takes what it takes. The novel draft is done, and it won’t take twelve years to revise and finish. The memoir is chugging along. The plan is to publish the memoir in late 2016. That’s not too far away.

I write everyday. There is work ahead. I put myself on a schedule a few months ago and thank goodness, I’m on schedule.

Thank you for reading. Thank you to the readers who read my JadePark blog and then found me again. Thank you to my friends who have answered every single text and email I’ve sent. Thank you for my mentors who have cheered me on.

 

On Watching Fresh Off the Boat With My Man

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I’ve always always ALWAYS wanted to write about a TV show. Like, for forever.

And so deep gratitude to Fresh Off the Boat for inspiring me to do so, and to BuzzFeed for the opportunity.

Also, thank you to my boyfriend who watched the show with me, and who was completely okay about being part of this essay on watching Fresh Off the Boat with my (white) boyfriend. For the record, I love the show. It addresses serious matters through humor–and I hope I was able to make serious points through humorous writing, too.

BuzzFeed has amazing editors–this was my second time working with them, and I’m always impressed by the editorial staff and the editorial work they do there. I know that BuzzFeed is best known for their listicles, but they’ve got good writers and good writing over there. Big thanks to BuzzFeed Editor Sandra Allen (who worked with me on my life changing stroke essay for BuzzFeed) for being an always-supportive contact (and now friend), and major thanks to Doree Shafrir for being a good editor to me on the piece.

Update:
I DIE: EDDIE HUANG HIMSELF JUST TWEETED ME AND SAID HE LOVED THE ARTICLE. And that O should buy the book. (Well, we should all buy and read his book)
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The best of times, the worst of times, and the work

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I am a great believer in the idea that life experiences balance out. That bad times are followed by good times, and vice versa. That very very amazing things are almost always accompanied with very very horrible things. This gets me through dark times, knowing that things will get better. This also makes me very nervous when things are going very very well, wondering when the other shoe will drop.

I had an Annus Horrible Horribilis, last year. This of course leads me think about horrible anuses, so there is that. Funny.

These days, I am going through the worst of times in some ways, the best of times in others. And so, in a weird twisted way, I am enjoying the amazing things more than I would had there been an absence of the horrible.

After the worst few months of my life last year, I began writing again. I wasn’t sure when I would return to writing, given that I’d had a child the year previous, and was completely overwhelmed by my new life. But then I wrote an essay for The Rumpus. I wrote another piece for SunDog Lit. A couple stories were accepted for publication. And then I wrote an essay for BuzzFeed. Which then went viral. I am grateful for all the readers who read the essay and then took the time to retweet it, share it on Facebook, emailed it to friends, and posted it on their tumblrs and blogs. You all made a difference for me.

Because the agents and editors came calling. I had some exhilarating discussions with each. In the end, I made my choice, and am now partnered with an amazing agent.

Then my SunDog Lit piece was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

All this in the wake of a fourteen year old marriage that fell apart in spectacular fashion. While adjusting to new motherhood.

So now I face another year. It can’t be worse than 2013, and I doubt the lows will match those of 2014.

I usually put a “to-do” list of actionable items together at the beginning of each year. Like, ride the ferry around the bay or make bitters or plant a vegetable garden.

Last year I did not make such a list–OHDEAR I REALIZE I DID!Last year I made a list–but mostly, I just wanted to get my life back together in whatever form it would. 2014 was about self-care and finding my way back to joy. I gained a lot of weight, and I enjoyed gaining all the weight I’d lost in 2013, back. And then some.

This year–I just don’t want to think about lists. I just want to keep exploring and furthermore, do the work. 2015 is going to be about work. I’m working on completing my stroke memoir. I’m working on getting rigor back into my new life.

As much as I believe in the inevitable balance–I also believe that I can position myself the best I can for each upswing, making sure all my ducks are in a row, and doing the best work I can, to ensure the best outcome.

The creative process is oftentimes a black box. It’s not exciting to describe–as it is purely about work. I think artists also like to continue the myth of brilliance–that ideas come out of thin air, that words come together in sequence in a sudden revelation. Nope. It is work. It is sweat. It is frustration. It is craving a donut instead of looking at the page. It is anxiety. It is fear. It is exhilaration. It is hope. So much of it is also about waiting.

It is about showing up on the steps each day to greet the Muse, should she choose to stop by. You sweep the steps, waiting. Sometimes the Muse does not come by. Oftentimes, the Muse makes no appearance. But if you are not on the steps, and the Muse does not come by, then you miss her. So you wait. You sweep.

I was hanging out with a Famous Writer last year. He and I arranged a social gathering together. It was a very low key, unexciting process. Like, what-do-you-want-to-drink, I-am-at-Trader-Joes, What-time-should-we-meet, All-right, etc., etc. But when the party started rolling, he told the party-planning story multiple times. Each time, he revised his telling such that in the end, it was more along the lines of, “Man! Christine is a party animal! Holy crap! She made me get all this liquor! She made sure we were going to party hard! She made me get more!” (well, not exactly–he told it much better).

I looked up at him, “Hey! You’re revising!”

He cocked his head. Thought about what I’d said. Smiled.

No one noticed his acknowledgment of the work.

But I did.

Sustenance

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I made tamales last week.

I have never made tamales on my own. I once made tamales at a friend’s 60th birthday party, but the ingredients were all accounted for, the fillings made, and we assembled them under her direction. We made hundreds of tamales together. And each of us got to take home a Ziploc full of steamed tamales. I’ve never been to a more delicious birthday party.

I like the communal aspect to making things like dumplings, ravioli, and tamales. And I love tamales.

So I really wanted to make tamales on my own.

There are so many other things I’ve been doing on my own. I bought my car’s child seat a few weeks after I was on my own with her. I assembled her toys and I’ve used a screwdriver more times than any in my life to date in this past year. I’ll have to do my taxes for the first time on my own, too. I’ve never done my own taxes, before, believe it or not. This is what happens when you meet the man who becomes your husband when you are in college.

We bought fresh masa at the Mexican grocery store across the street from the urban farm store. We have chickens now. It’s been raining, so we bought straw to mitigate mud puddles, and more feed so they could eat. We expect they will lay eggs any week, now. They are hearty and happy chickens. One is friendly and comes straight up to you, a second is spunky and figures things out a little faster than the others, and a third is standoffish and cranky. I named them after Gatsby female characters: Jordan, Myrtle, and Daisy.

We also bought chile peppers, tomatillos, and lard.

I made the fillings. I have been a very bad Jew this year, and I continued in that vein and bought a pork shoulder to braise and slather with a homemade red chile sauce. And a chicken that I poached. I blistered the tomatillos and made a tomatillo sauce for the chicken.

Then I went to sleep. Tamales take a lot of labor, require many steps, and I decided to spread it out over a couple of days.

There have been many steps in my life this year. I look back at the long road behind me, and I have come a ways. Some of the things around me are decidedly new and exhilarating. Other things are new and frightening, or familiar and comforting. Most exasperating are the things that are familiar and toxic. I am still taking steps.

Some days I am petrified with fear. I am not sure what will happen, and all the roads before me are new, and I am tired and overwhelmed and very scared, even while I am oftentimes happy and exhilarated. You can be happy and scared at the same time, by the way.

Last week, I had an anxiety attack that was so bad, I sat in my bed rocking myself, while hugging myself. I was crying, too. I was aware that I was acting crazy, but rocking back and forth made me feel better. So I kept doing it. I had to. I thought about the time I read about little babies in orphanages rocking themselves in their cribs, because they weren’t held enough, and because human beings need that comfort. Comfort. Comfort. I rocked back and forth for about half an hour and texted a good friend that I was doing so. Then she called me. I answered the phone, sniffling through my nose like a little kid. And then I felt better.

There is a lot of labor. A lot of work. Some of it is dreary. But I’m happy to say that a chunk of the labor is writing a memoir about my stroke, a glimpse of which readers saw in my BuzzFeed essay, “I Had a Stroke at 33.” I am writing a book proposal and getting started on writing the chapters.

I try to rest when I can. It is hard to rest when there is a toddler zooming around the house. But I am thankful to everyone who helps me watch after her. Very thankful. Like, a forever indebted thankful. Like, I wish I could pay everyone who watches my daughter a million dollars.

I woke up the next day and heated up some water and put all the dried corn husks into the pot so that they could soften.

Then I did some work. Some writing. After the husks were soft enough for folding, I scooped out lard and a little bit of butter and turned on the mixer. Then I added the fresh masa. And then some chicken broth from the poached chicken. Just so you know, at this point, masa mixture went flying everywhere. There are still little lard and masa flecks on the side of my fridge.

But when I plopped a teaspoon of mixed masa into water, it floated. Which meant the masa was ready to use.

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Yes, I am aware that it looks like a tiny penis. I did not do it on purpose. Though it still pleases me that this happened.

I set up the masa assembly. My tamale-partner-in-crime had work to do, so I assembled the tamales myself. It seemed fitting to my theme. I did not mind. It was peaceful to take a break from my writing and smear masa on the insides of corn husks, put a tablespoon of filling, and then some sauce on top of that, fold the husks, and then wrap them. I decided to put one tie on the pork tamales, and to put two ties on the chicken.

My tamales did not look very consistent. Some were misshapen or undersized and a few looked like actual tamales.

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I laid them in the steamer insert to steam.

Then you steam them for about an hour. I do this with my writing, too–sometimes you have to put something aside to do some baking. When I look at something I’ve written days later, some things become more clear to me. Ideas sprout.

Sometimes you have to wait for things to become delicious.

Our chickens are now four months old. In a couple of months they will begin laying eggs. The first eggs will be smaller, and possibly misshapen. Yes, I hear the first eggs can be quite odd. But then over time, their eggs will become larger and more consistent in size. We are waiting. We are caring for the hens, making sure they are fed and have water and a clean home.

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When the tamales come out of the steamer, they don’t look much different on the outside. The house smells good, though. I am salivating.

They keep for a few days in the fridge, and they do freeze well. I froze many of them, but we ate many more than we froze.

The cooked masa was fluffy, the filling savory and perfect. Our hands were greasy from the lard and butter in the tamales. This is why I think they are served rarely, even in homes with people who know how to make tamales. But what a treat.

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The labor is rewarding. Doing new things on your own is rewarding.

A couple months ago, I signed with an agent who believes in me and in whom I believe. BuzzFeed named my essay one of their 13 favorite personal essays they published in 2014. And I hope I write a memoir of which I can be proud. I have so many hopes.

Happy holidays.

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Wow. Wow. Wow.

I have been sitting in my house for the past day (I seriously never left the house yesterday), stunned at the reception to my BuzzFeed Longform essay about my stroke and recovery, “I Had a Stroke at 33.” I have received thousands of encouraging and kind tweets, dozens of amazing emails, and so so so much support for that piece.

I am seriously floored, and in a giddy, dazed shock. I did not expect this many people to read my piece, nor did I expect it to illicit OMG there is that weird homophone aphasia thing again elicit so many connections. But I’m glad it has–I’m glad it has provided insight into traumatic brain injuries and stroke, that it has provided comfort to some and enlightenment to others.

When I was going through stroke recovery, I felt incredibly alone. Each stroke is unique, so that just furthers the isolation. And while recovering, I basically sat shiva for the person I lost, unready to face the person I’d become. So if this piece eases that solitary for others, I’m so happy.

In 36 hours, my essay was viewed 300,000 times. Three Hundred Thousand.

And this morning, it’s the “most dugg” post on Digg.

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(#4 is the horrific story about a man who has 100 hellish orgasms a day).

I’m trying to reply to each email and FB message. I’m sorry I can’t reply to all the tweets, but I see them, and am so psyched that people feel so passionate about the piece they are compelled to share it with others.

It took a long time to condense my stroke into an essay. Writing nonfiction for me is like cutting my wrists and letting them bleed into words. (Fiction isn’t any easier; that’s like INVENTING a pair of wrists and then cutting them until they bleed, too). I seriously thought my stroke was The Most Boring Story I could tell; who wants to hear about a sick person? And I wanted to write a narrative that provided layers of meaning to my experience. But this summer, I was ready. And apparently, you were ready for my story, too.

Thank you thank you thank you. Deep gratitude.

Thank you to my editor at BuzzFeed, Sandra Allen who lifted every stone and sharpened my story. Thank you to Lisa Perrin, whose illustrations captured the spirit of my essay. Writers don’t get to choose the artwork (and rarely the titles), and I so lucked out this time. Check out Lisa Perrin’s store on etsy.

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