the body

the ragged bone
presses beneath damask skin
and a seam gasps
for the body
to become
a city of spires:
rib-cage and wrist
and ripped fabric

© 2019 Stellular Scribe



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death is a mother at a hearth

she imagined death as a mother at a hearth
fava beans and fennel
oregano and almond-ground pasta
set to simmer in the three-legged pot

the steam lifted her
kissed her
savory firelight bathed her
a peppered voice anointed her

she imagined death as a mother at a hearth
and such sweet regard ruined her

© 2019 Stellular Scribe

Rejection and Gratitude in Writing

My dear scribes:

Today, January 10th of the year 2019, is a historic day in my writing history. It is a day that I hope to look back on with fondness and invigoration.

Today marks the day of my first rejection from a literary agent!

When I was younger, the thought of sending my work out into the world, of bleeding out something that for so long had been kept quiet and secret, was enough to freeze my fingers at the keys. And then to have that piece of my heart rejected? Suffice to say, I feared the denial of agents and editors more than rejection in my personal day-to-day relationships. What was some dumb boy’s affections to the opinions of my literary betters?

But today I received my first rejection (not one week after sending out my first batch of queries, might I add), and I can’t help but feel…gratitude.

That might seem odd. And I’m not claiming that rejection doesn’t sting. But at this early stage in my career I can only afford to consider the positives.

I am grateful to have even been considered, because that means that I am officially in the game to play. If one rejection gets me down, then I’m in the game only to win, and winning isn’t possible without playing every card.

I am grateful that the response even showed up in my inbox, because a rejection is better than radio silence. I can now cross the agent off my list and send out another query in its place.

I am grateful that it was a personalized rejection. I hear that form rejections are common due to the sheer amount of queries that agents receive. So the fact that this particular agent took the time to comment on what she thought worked and didn’t work in my first few pages is extremely valuable to me. I know that my query and synopsis caught her attention with my concept and setting. I also know now that I need to work on kinks in sentence structure — which is feedback that I can use and that will be an incredible asset as I continue querying.

I am grateful for the rejection itself, because it means that this particular agent is not the right fit for me or my book. No doubt she provides terrific representation to a great number of writers, but without that initial spark in the querying process, there is no way that she could be the champion of my story that I would need her to be. Publishing is subjective, and that is simply a fact.

I am not going to post every time I get a rejection (because that will quickly get old as more roll in), but after reading my first rejection I was overcome by a sense of accomplishment. I needed to mark this moment, so that when I become discouraged I can look back and remember the things to be grateful for in a rejection.

Like I said before, I can’t afford to dwell in self-pity. I can only pick up my pen, revise again, and send out more queries.

Have you dealt with rejection in the literary sphere? What was your initial response? How have you grown from it?

Happy writing,

Emily

2019: The Year of the Query

I’m not in the habit of setting goals for myself come the New Year. This is in large part because I always, always, always have the same handful of goals guiding my every step, no matter the season.

And that driving ambition? To put a book out in the world.

Though with such a challenging objective, it makes sense for me to break it up into smaller pieces. That’s why, in 2018, my goal was to finish writing and revising my book.

I am proud to say that I accomplished that goal. My sixth book, a YA fantasy called Hymns of Salt and Terror, has undergone three rounds of revision, and is complete at just under 90k words. It isn’t perfect, and I’m sure that I could still find ways to improve it, but agonizing over that fact will only stagnate the process.

Now, after three years, I finally feel ready to query.

I have no delusions about the publishing world. Starting next week, when I send out my first batch of queries to literary agents, I will be exposing myself to rejection. I will be wide open, vulnerable. The future of my book is now out of my hands. 

So I designate 2019 the year of the query.

But I don’t want to be all consumed by drafting better letters or writing more revisions (though I will certainly dedicate time to those). I want to start writing something new in 2019. I think, after being so close to this project for so long, I will rejuvenate in a change of story, perhaps even in a change of genre. 

So my goal for 2019 is not “to get an agent” or “to get a book deal.” My goal is to cast my line into the waters of publishing, and to write ever more.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by goals because so often we frame them as a thing that we want to achieve or possess. I find it much more assuring to stake my agency in actions. If I commit to the act of something, I do not constrict myself with the narrow outcome. I open myself up to possibility.

Perhaps I don’t get an agent at the end of this road, but I know that no matter what, I will get somewhere.

© 2019 Stellular Scribe

Hereafter

He holds the arms of the fever,
the wrath of the water,
and their bodies are enlarged with dreams.

They are the bodies of crushed marble,
gold, amber bone extraction,
the raw materials behind the Hereafter,
when the Nile remained in the luster of Lebanon.

A gem of her old light
softens the tongue of its severity.
And he, the only poet in the night sky
kisses her collapsed face
to taste tomorrow binding.

© 2019 Stellular Scribe

#AMMconnect Bio

Ever since finishing the first draft of my YA fantasy novel, HYMNS OF SALT AND TERROR, I have had Author Mentor Match (AMM) on my calendar. After months of pooling over critique partner notes and completing revisions, I finally feel ready to put my baby out in the world. But before I do that, I know that I could still stand to learn and improve with the help of the Author Mentor Match program, which connects unpublished writers with agented authors.

If you are an aspiring writer who wants to be traditionally published, I urge you to check out their program!

A Bit About Me

My name is Emily Giangiulio. I am an undergraduate student from Philadelphia working on my degrees in Creative Writing (Fiction) and Anthropology. Writing has always burned brightly in my blood, and the novel that I hope to seek representation for is my sixth manuscript. Granted, the first few novels (written between the ages of eight and twelve) were all about talking dogs and elementary school heists, but I consider each work to be a piece of me, and I would not be where I am now if not for the experience of writing them.Emily Giangiulio

At the moment, my life is pretty typical of a college student, except I wake up at four in the morning to write novels and spend my nights tutoring English to non-native speakers.

My family is Italian-American, and I have been studying the Italian language throughout college. I even studied abroad in Sicily, and it was my time there that inspired the fantasy setting for my novel.

What I Write

I write young adult speculative fiction, and I am particularly fond of fantasies set in non-Western European settings. HYMNS OF SALT AND TERROR is a YA fantasy novel inspired by fifteenth century Barbary pirates and various Sicilian folklores. If Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina met Starz’s Black Sails in a life-raft on the Mediterranean, I like to think that this book would be the lovechild of that sea-swept union.

Aesthetic #4

Without giving away too much, my novel is about Esmerata Spataro, a flutist whose world is forever changed when her fishing village is ransacked and she, her musician friend, Pia, and a number of other captives are kidnapped by pirates. While awaiting her fate in the slave markets of distant Arpoli, Esmerata is forced to serve as the captain’s private musician aboard God’s Plague.

She discovers a mysterious connection to the sea that allows her to spin each note into her will and to manipulate the actions of all who take pleasure in her hymns. Her goal: to take the ship and to kill the captain, armed with nothing but her music and the help of a grim surgeon, a fast-talking helmsman, and a lookout whose veins run with more saltwater than blood.

Aesthetic #5   Aesthetic #2

In this novel you can expect to encounter: subtle yet gritty magic systems, settings inspired by Sicilian villages and Tunisian coasts, morally gray pirates who wear too many rings and too much eyeliner, non-traditional revenge-filled sirens, and music that quite literally breaks hearts…and bones. Also, a dash of romantic angst with a supernatural selkie-boy.

Aesthetic #3

Why I Would Love To Be A Mentee

I am a big believer in the power of collaborative writing. As both a writing tutor and a person who has participated in many fiction workshops, I have come to value criticism and feedback in all its forms.

I am in love with my novel, but I need someone to push me further. Someone to rip the rug out from under me, so to speak. I have worked with critique partners on this manuscript, but I feel that I need the help of someone who has foresight into the publishing industry.

I am a dedicated editor and I am willing to put the work in to improving my novel. If I am selected for Author Mentor Match, I would be so grateful for the opportunity because I know that each mentor truly cares about seeing their mentee do well.

Aesthetic #6

You can find me lurking around this blog, or on twitter @stellularscribe. Thanks for stopping by!

A Tide Come May

My dear Scribes,
Today marks the fourth birthday of my blog. I don’t typically ascribe to the sentimentality of anniversaries — it’s only one day, after all (and everyone knows that time is a social construct!). But when I saw the notification this morning, I was temporarily lifted from the fog of my undergraduate life. I ascended from my literary analyses and anthropological articles and was reminded of myself at sixteen years old. I was a sophomore in high school who had accumulated too many poems, and I needed a place to put them. Since then, Stellular Scribe has been a constant writing refuge for me from my over-scheduled life. One day, I hope to settle here more permanently, to share my first, most precious passion more consistently. 
To commemorate four years on the internet, I want to share with you a recent piece I wrote for a fiction workshop, entitled “A Tide Come May.”
Thank you, all, for your support. For your attentive reading. For your inspiration.

Finding the way out to sea too cryogenic in salt, she sunk into the sand at the shore. Here was an exit too vague and cold to cross, where eels of foam avoided her toes and sizzled under the sun. Here was the spoke in the sand and the angled footprints of the fisherman and the silvery dust of mishandled scales. A man too tanned, too thick haired and black eyed, to be mistaken for her father stood knee-deep in the surf and repealed his line from the sea.

The Rooster’s shadow overcast her.

“…already knew about historicist nihilism, but Hegel still changed my life. I feel, huh, like I’ve evolved as a thinker, you know?”

Her inner ear prickled at his voice. Here was the Hawaiian-shirt clad tourist, who, while strolling the beach with idealism under his arm, had spied her reading in the dunes and taken it upon himself to question her taste in literature. He wore a squat hat — a hat that she thought new mothers might stuff over toddler ears. He had told her his name, but all she could remember of the exchange was the way he scratched his sunburnt neck, like a preening rooster. He went on roosting in her sun, following her from the beachgrass to the minefield of broken shells at the bank to where she sat now, blockaded at the water’s edge.

Fly away, she wanted to say. Go find a nice hen to squawk at.

The too-tanned man, who would never have been picked out as her blood against a beach of pale, sunbathing flesh, took pride in his cast. She saw it in the way his eyes longed after the lure whipping into invisibility across the waves. The satisfying latch of the lead sinker, the taut reflection of the line as the reel snapped against his hands — his mechanics exhaled an intertidal joy. She envied that clarity, that sense of belonging in the space between low and high tide.

The Rooster cawed for attention.

You should read Phenomenology of Spirit, if you want something more substantial. I’ll say, though, it’s not exactly a light beach read, ha! You know, when I saw you I thought that not a lot of girls…”

Finally, the water stretched its invisible hands to her feet. She thanked it with her fingers, with her palms filled with wet sand. The Rooster’s own knobby toes slipped under the tide.

“Jesus, that’s cold!” He hopped out of the water’s way.

She blinked at him. “To be honest, Roo—”

“Roger.”

“I’ll be honest.” She cleared her throat. “You have good intentions, I’m sure. Great. The best. So you might not realize —”

That you’re emitting potent stalker vibes and I’ve never in my life cared about Hegel and also I don’t know you.

She didn’t say anything else, because the too-tanned man’s arm locked. His rod bowed. Old ladies wearing floppy sun hats stopped on their waterside stroll to gasp at something in between the waves.

“Realize?” The Rooster cocked his head, and his toddler hat almost slid off the side of his head.

A saline breeze brought her to her feet. “Shark.”

“What?”

She tossed her book up into the dry sand and pointed towards the crowd gathering around the too-tanned man. “Shark!”

***

The too-tanned man, who was her father, would compose poetry to the shark if he knew the right words. But he was the crease in the white collar of America and had been sewn into the silence of masculine pride. He could only express his devotion in the act of drawing, by pooling his strength into removing the shark from his power. Though she did not look like him — she was too sallow in complexion and prone to angularities — she always sensed that she thought like him. Where he did not speak for the shark, he manifested. It was in his intensity on the thrill of the catch, the meditation of extraction, the worship of an ancient aquatic foe. They shared in their longing on the cusp of two worlds.

The Rooster followed her, predictably, to the scene. She left his clucking behind her, uninterested in his inevitable attempts to philosophize a shark.

She splashed out to her father and saw, quite clearly, that Hollywood-hailed triangle of gray. As the clear belly of the wave stretched vertically, a dorsal fin sliced into view. A crowd of Vineyard Vines spokesladies and geriatric men fiddling with their croakies gathered on the side of the earthbound. A man in patriotic swim trunks hollered, “Thas a big boy!”

She imagined it as an invaded moment of privacy, as if all of Middle America had peered through the hospital door to watch the sea, splayed on its back, give thrashing, tearful birth. She wanted to shoo them back into the white enamel corridor, back to their terrestrial existences, and tell them, “Family only, please.”

The Rooster’s voice rose from the sand. “Hey, you should stay back! Sharks have layers of teeth, fifty teeth, sharp as knives. I can remember a time —”

“How is she?” Her voice was a whisper at her father’s side.

“Four feet, brown shark, only a juvenile.” With one hand he shifted his cigar to the corner of his mouth and clamped it between his teeth. With the other hand, he reeled. And reeled. And reeled.

The line sung a high-pitched note in the wind. There was no need to say anything else; she knew what lyrics were being transposed in their thoughts. There was a solemnity that accompanied reeling in a shark. The goal of fishing, as they understood, was to sustain a dinner table, to tie the biblical knot between family and the kingdom of oceanic offerings. The shark did not fulfill that goal; but still they must drag it in, despite its violent desperation, so that they could discharge it.

She was reminded of five years ago when she stood knee-deep in the sea on this same bank with her own skinny pole. Fishing was all there was to do on a May afternoon when the water was too cold to swim in — and she had been praying, just loud enough that she could hear her own words mingle in the grumble of the waves. She prayed to the current that spiraled the bloodworm at the end of her hook, to the curiosity of schools of kingfish, to the enthusiasm of crabs reaching through the murky soup of seaweed for her bait.

It was a self-contained ritual that her father carried out now, mumbling under his breath. Only here was the shark, the antithesis to Christ’s Galilean tilapia, flipping its powerful tail over the break of white water. Here was the sea, weeping to lose her eldest daughter. She joined in her father’s prayer, that they may come quietly. Peacefully.

Of course, the crowd soaked up the drama of the display.

“I didn’t know there were sharks here!” a woman exclaimed.

“That’s it, I’m never going in the water again.”

God forbid there are sharks in the Atlantic.

A stream of sweat slipped parallel to the vein straining in her father’s neck. She knew how it felt — like pulling a sack of bricks by a thread. Soon his arm would go numb; his thumb would blister.

“Now!” he said.

***

She grabbed the line as it slackened and pulled it backwards towards the sand. Like elastic, the waves retracted, offering up the shark. Its skin glistened as the sun, foreign and forceful, seeped into it. Jaw agape, finely pointed teeth lined in its own blood, eyes yellow with liquid terror, gills begging against the air. It swung out its tail like a whip and the crowd took a collective breath.

Her father held out his arm as he sloshed towards the bank. “Stay back. She’s scared.”

“Is that a real shark?” someone asked.

Her father didn’t answer. He knelt beside the creature and pulled a set of pliers out of his pocket.

She staked her knees in the wet sand and placed her palm on the back of the shark’s skull. It felt like suede beholding flexible cartilage as the nerves in its vertebrae fired, retired, and fired again. With her other hand she pinned the tail, and felt its livid life force punch against her bony matter. The shark’s musculature seized and released as it volleyed between twisting out of her grip and resigning to her weight.

The process of removing the hook involved a coordination between her and her father. An exchange, if it were, of poetics. His plier hovered in the space between the shark’s upper and lower rows of teeth as she wrangled the body and splashed water onto its back. The white inner flesh suctioned, the unseen steel bent into submission, a bubble of blood popped in the back of its throat.

The hook emerged as a crumpled thing, and the shark reared its head.

She stroked a line down its dorsal fin, and she marvelled at her distinctness. “Can I…can I take her back?”

Her father wiped his bloody hands off in the sand and nodded. “Be careful with her tail.”

Before the sea could lap around her ankles, she wrapped her arms around the belly of the shark. One hand encircled the base of the caudal fin. She slid its pectoral into the crook of her elbow. Its belly heaved, strangely prickly and cool, against her own, and she had to enclose the heavy-set body within the physical space between her forearms and ribs.

She glanced back at the crowd, suddenly self-conscious of her appearance as an awkward redeemer — but rather than the Messiah cradling his lamb, she teetered to clutch sixty pounds of jagged shark, of anxious, sharp-jawed brawn.

The Rooster was gone. And she found it fitting, somehow, that as she had maneuvered his abstractions she now held tight to a most certain reality, an extraction of that vague, cold sea. A sea too cryogenic for her to know. But this shark, this poetic actor that her father had accepted at the end of his line, could transcend the suspended animation of the water’s surface. Could out-swim the dialectical crud of sea-sand-surf, thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

She turned her back to the lingering spectators and walked out to sea. As shells crunched beneath her feet, she knew that she had to go deeper, further, until she became numb to the cold. Until the intertidal zone was crossed, and the shark could feel again.

© 2018 Stellular Scribe