Why Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a Terrible Story and Why You Should Absolutely See It

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I have something of a conflicted relationship with the Harry Potter franchise.

Not with the books, goodness knows I still love the books dearly.  Like many millennials, the books changed my life, gave me a sense of identity (I’m a Ravenclaw, in case you couldn’t tell), and fostered my desire to become a fantasy writer.  I’ve written fanfiction, attended book release parties, was a proud member of the Harry Potter Fan Club in high school, and was unashamedly a full on Harry Potter nerd and very proud of it.

Given my history and love of the books, you might be a little surprised to learn that I full on loathe the films, to the point where I refuse to watch them or see any of the Fantastic Beasts films.  (Don’t get me started on THAT rant.)  For the last five years or so, every time J.K. Rowling has tweeted something about post-canon events, it usually sends me into a rage spiral and I have to cool off.  (I don’t care if she’s the writer and what she says goes, it’s bullshit that George ended up with Angelina, Rowling did NOT have Nagini planned out as an Asian woman from the get-go, and blocking Native readers on Twitter because they found you appropriating their culture offensive and cruel is fucked up, JOANNA.)  I also kind of hate most of the merchandise because most of it is based on the films and, as previously stated—I hate the films.

I also was not happy about the Cursed Child fiasco.

Like most Potterheads, I read Cursed Child when it came out.  It…did not impress me, put it that way.  I had no intention of seeing the play in my lifetime, because why would I spend a fortune on something with such an out of character storyline?  (We’ll get to that in a minute.)

However, as a Mother’s Day surprise, my mom’s best friend gifted her with really good seats to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” while we were in New York.  My mom was thrilled.  I was happy for her too—I could just grab some drinks on Broadway while they enjoyed their play, or so I thought.

Until I learned that her best friend had gotten me tickets too.

Well, that certainly changed things.  So sure enough, I found myself only a few feet away from the Cursed Child on Broadway, cynically sipping a Brooklyn lager, and expecting the worse.

But to my surprise, I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought I would.  In fact, I’d regard the entire experience was nothing short of enchanting—if you’ll excuse the cliché.

There was a lot about the play’s writing that made me just as mad as it did when I first read the book.  And now for an itemized list.

  1. The entire characterization of Harry Potter. I don’t know if Jack Thorne, the co-writer of this play, simply didn’t like Harry Potter or didn’t understand him, but I found the onstage Harry miles away from the Harry I grew up with.  I recognize the angle of “what if Harry Potter grew up to be a massive abusive douchebag” may be a literary sort of take, but it’s not a take I appreciated or liked.  I also acknowledge that they were trying to talk about childhood trauma and how it follows you into adulthood, and how Harry’s neglect and abusive relatives played into this, but you could’ve made the same point without Harry repeating the cycle of abuse.  I simply do not find it plausible that Harry James Potter, who spent every summer isolated and lonely, longing for his best friends, would forcibly separate his youngest and clearly depressed son from his best friend based on the words of a centaur’s vague prophecy.  That doesn’t add up to me.  Nor do I find it feasible that he would threaten Professor McGonagall’s livelihood if she did not assist with this clear emotional abuse—not the man who once cursed someone for spitting in her face.
  2. Which leads me to the also implausible idea that Ginny Weasley would just stand by and watch her husband do this and let it happen. I don’t buy it.  She doesn’t exactly have a submissive personality and I doubt seriously she would stand for Harry separating two close friends for no good reason.
  3. The gifts. Harry Potter had three iconic magical items that aided his adventures while he was at Hogwarts.  The invisibility cloak, his broomstick (the Nimbus 2000 and the Firebolt), and the Marauder’s Map.  Harry Potter has three children.  It is established within the context of the play that his son James begged him for the invisibility cloak.  Okay, that makes sense, he gets the invisibility cloak.  It is established that his son Albus does not have talent with a broomstick.  Fair enough, different strokes for different folks.  His daughter Lily—well, we don’t know much about her, honestly.  We do know that her mother is canonically a professional Quidditch player.  Ginny went on to play Quidditch professionally.  This is one of the few things Rowling tweeted out that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out because it makes sense.  So…maybe it makes sense for Lily to inherit the Firebolt?  But no.  She gets…wings.  Um, okay.  Lily gets the gendered gift.    But obviously that leaves the Marauder’s Map.  This should obviously go to Albus, right?  NOPE.  Harry gives him his baby blanket.  I know they were trying to do an emotional pathos sort of thing, but if I were a fourteen-year-old, I would also be let down by this super lame gift.  I mean…he couldn’t have wrapped the Marauder’s Map IN the blanket?  That never occurred to him?  The books don’t show any sort of emotional resonance to the blanket he was wrapped up in, but okay, we’ll just pretend that he’s emotionally tied to this blanket rather than the magical map all three of his father figures helped create and is an actual canonical link to them.
  4. I don’t know on what planet Draco Malfoy grew up to be a better person than Harry Potter—but honestly, it just strikes me that Jack Thorne is far more partial to the Slytherin villainous characters than the heroes. But seeing Malfoy appeal to Harry quite reasonably, to let their sons be together, and Harry to attack him so viciously and accuse Scorpius of being a bastard—I got whiplash from the role reversal.  This isn’t to say I don’t believe that Malfoy could grow up to be a better person (the epilogue seems to indicate this), but to see his emotional growth while Harry becomes just as detestable as Vernon Dursley does not strike me as in-character.
  5. To the play’s credit, they seemed to have an understanding of Ron and Hermione’s relationship that far exceeded anything those pitiful films threw at us. (That’s another blogpost for another day.)  But I have a real problem with the idea that if Ron hadn’t gotten jealous of Hermione and Krum at the Yule Ball, they would’ve never gotten together.  Never?  Never ever?  The alternate reality where we see that Ron ended up with Padma and Hermione ended up a mean spinster professor at Hogwarts was…bizarre, while simultaneously sexist.  Why on earth would Hermione have ended up as a mean spinster professor?  (It’s in the play, guys, she bullies the students on a Snape-like level)  She wouldn’t have ended up with Krum?  With Luna?  (You will never convince me she’s straight.)  Bugger off to this sexist bullshit.
  6. Wiser people than me have written about Ron and Padma’s son “Panju”. It’s about as cringe-worthy on the stage as it is in the text.  Don’t take my word for the blatant racism against South Asian people.
  7. I’m sorry, I have to go back to Ron and Hermione.  In the second alternate reality, we discover that Harry died and Ron and Hermione became fugitives in hiding.  And they…are still not together.  Bull.  Shit.  There is no way in hell that the two of them wouldn’t have fallen into each other’s arms in mutual devastation and grieving after Harry’s death.  Hell, you could’ve even had them unhealthily attached to each other, with an angst driven codependency because they can’t bear to lose one another—ah, my fanfic sense is tingling.  My point is, I just do not think that eighteen years would pass and the two of them wouldn’t have been together.
  8. I have trouble believing Snape would’ve continued fighting for the resistance after both Harry and Dumbledore’s deaths. Sorry, Snape lovers.
  9. The time travel plot. It’s just…not good.  All I can really say about that is “Voldemort Day”.  I think that just sums it up.  Voldemort Day.
  10. Voldemort having a daughter makes no canonical sense. It is established within the books that Bellatrix Lestrange is infatuated with him, but not once does Voldemort ever return the affection.  It is implied that he is incapable of love and nowhere is it even indicated that he even has sexual desires.
  11. Cedric Diggory. This is one of my biggest issues with the play.  There is no way that the Cedric Diggory we met in the third and fourth books would ever become a Death Eater.  Cedric was kind.  He was smart, honorable, and filled to the brim with integrity.  I don’t care how humiliated he was during the Triwizard Tournament, this is just not a good enough catalyst to send him spiraling into dark magic.  This same guy thought it was unfair that he won a Quidditch match against Harry because dementors interrupted the match and caused him to fall off his broom.  This same guy refused a chance to win the Triwizard Tournament for the glory of his maligned house, because he honestly thought Harry deserved to win.  This same guy who made sure Harry had a chance by giving him the tip to put the dragon’s egg underwater.  This same guy who did not fault Harry Potter for being in the tournament, who understood that Harry was thrust into the thing against his will, and had no control over the matter.  Hell, Cedric probably even knew that the famous Harry had a thing for his girlfriend and STILL he was nothing but absolutely decent to Harry.  It’s a complete disservice to the character to imply that he was that embittered, that petty, to let a simple humiliation spur him onto becoming a Death Eater.  It makes no canonical sense.
  12. Forcing Harry Potter to go back in time and witness his parents get murdered by Voldemort. The scene was beautifully acted.  Harry’s actor conveyed the right amounts of horror at the scene and his traumatized screams and sobs moved me to tears.  But I couldn’t stop thinking why.  Why on earth was this scene written.  Why have a scene that retraumatizes Harry when the entire play is supposed to be about him dealing with his childhood trauma?  What purpose does that serve?  It seemed nothing more than tragedy porn and was incredibly distressing to watch.  As a writer, I get it, sometimes you have to write difficult scenes that are terrible for your characters, but forcing Harry to witness this just did not serve the plot at all.  It was disturbing and out of place.

Now you’re probably thinking, “okay, Kat, we get it, you hated the play”.  Not so!  I kind of loved it, actually.  Why?  Because literally everything else was pitch perfect. 

I’m not exaggerating.  I was a thespian in high school and have a real appreciation for the magic of the stage, but even I was blown away at the sheer magnitude of the production.  The chorography between scenes to represent time passing was stunning.  The special effects made my mouth drop open MULTIPLE times.  I still don’t know how they did the centaur.  Did they have a horse backstage?!  The wand work, people disappearing into telephone booths, the dementors that literally flew at the audience—my cynical heart got absolutely swept up in it.  I remembered how much I love these damn books, despite being an embittered fan who is continually irritated with J.K. Rowling.

The casting was perfect too.  Particularly Ron.  Oh, how I loved Ron.  Ron Weasley, I think, is perhaps my favorite character in the series and the disservice to his character is about 80% of the reason why I hate the films.  But I have no criticisms of the play’s Ron.  He was funny, genial, marvelously supportive of his wife—100% ready to beat the shit out of Malfoy for saying that Hermione only became Minister of Magic because of Harry.  (Ginny had to hold him back, it was awesome.)  The acting was phenomenal and while I have some pretty intense disagreements with the script, each of the actors brought an incredible amount of nuance and pathos to their roles.

So I come to you all, hat in my hands, to say…yes.  You should see this play.

I’ve never been so deeply annoyed by a script and yet so intensely enchanted by everything else about the play.  I am experiencing an odd duality where I hate nearly everything about the story, but still urging people to see it, so they can experience the enchantment of seeing the Harry Potter world truly brought to life.

What can I say?  Magic is complicated.

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New York, I Love You

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Last week, I took a vacation with my mother and her best friend to New York City.  And what a time we had!  I’ve always wanted to visit New York, as a writer and as someone who watches Nora Ephron movies repeatedly at an alarming rate.  New York did not disappoint (it rarely does) and if you follow my Instagram (katinoxford) or Twitter (katinoxford), hopefully you got a fun taste of my adventures.  But here’s a fun bulletpoint list of my experiences:

  • I don’t think New Yorkers are as brusque and mean as popular culture has taught me–but I think they like keeping up the reputation.  My first day out, I boldly went up to a street cart and ordered a bagel and coffee for my breakfast.  Unfortunately, I did not realize that most street carts are cash only.  Oops.  But the lady behind me paid for my breakfast, simply asking me to “pay it forward”.  Furthermore, I proceeded to accidentally leave my debit card with a cashier or on the counter a total of four times while making various purchases at different times–and every time, either another customer or the cashier called me over to make sure I didn’t walk off without it.  Thus, I am forced to include that New Yorkers are total softies that treat everyone with courtesy and respect but want you to THINK they’re gruff and tough.
  • I mentioned my love of Nora Ephron movies?  So of course we had to go to Katz Deli so I could loudly proclaim “I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING.” to the diner at large while the waiters smiled at me through gritted teeth, because I’m sure they have heard that joke a million times.  My burger was nothing to write home about, but the macaroni salad will haunt my dreams forevermore.  I also tried an egg cream, which tastes a bit like a melted ice cream float.
  • We also had the distinct pleasure of seeing “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” onstage.  The acting, casting, staging, choreography, and stage effects were nothing short of phenomenal.  The storytelling?  Well…that’s going to be my Friday post, let’s just say that.  I’m fairly critical of Cursed Child as a whole but I will say this:  I thought there was no point in seeing it since the story was rubbish.  But if you love Harry Potter, you should DEFINITELY see it, even with the story’s problems.
  • I loved romping around the East Village, Chinatown, Brooklyn, basically anywhere that was artsy and brimming with creativity.  I think Chinatown was my favorite–it had such a unique vibe to it, a rhythm that was indescribable.  It smelled amazing and wandering through the wonderful and weird shops was wonderful to my soul.  I also had the best iced latte OF MY LIFE in a coffee shop called Sweet Moments–check it out if you’re there.
  • I walked down Fifth Avenue and lusted over clothes, purses, and shoes I could not afford.  I took a picture of myself in Louboutins.  How I long for a pair of Louboutins.  My lust, my love, my motivation for becoming a successful writer…ahem.  There WAS a dress that was 40% off at Saks and I did purchase it.  (It was still overpriced, even discounted.)
  • Unfortunately, midway through my trip, I caught some kind of nasty virus which knocked me out for a day and a half.  I bounced back pretty quickly (my mother will swear it’s because she forced me to suck zinc lozenges like it was my job and I can’t really dispute this), but it still sucked to waste a day and a half in bed, feeling miserable as I watched Chernobyl.  (Don’t ask me what I thought of it, I fell asleep halfway through, so I need to watch it again!)
  • I tried New York pizza which was quite tasty!  I also dined on caviar, $3 tacos, kebabs, very strong margaritas, and Prosecco.  My mother also brought me stuff from the Plaza (she and her BFF had high tea there), so I got to nibble on overpriced tea sandwiches and scones!
  • I navigated the New York Subway successfully and felt very smug about it.  I did not see any rats, which is good, because I’m terrified of rats.
  • I wandered around the Met–right before I got sick, unfortunately, so my memories are through a haze of me thinking “gosh it’s cold in here” to “OH GOD I’M GOING TO DIE”.  But it is an incredible museum and I wish I could’ve roamed about for a little longer.  I saw “Hagar in the Wilderness” which was by far my favorite painting.
  • I went to ALL OF THE BOOKSTORES.

New York was lovely.  And a week was far too short to do all the exploring I wanted to do.  Guess that means I’ll have to go again!

 

What Order Should You Read The Chronicles of Narnia in?

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If you ever want to make a C.S. Lewis scholar mad, just tell them you think Harper Collins was absolutely right in reordering the Chronicles of Narnia.  (Calm them down with a cup of tea and invigorating discussion about the land of Bism.)

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I am, of course, talking about the controversial subject of what order you should read “The Chronicles of Narnia” in.

I hesitated doing this post, because there are so many other posts that discuss it better.  My friend and fellow Lewis scholar Jen, for example, did this marvelously here.  And my other friend and fellow Lewis scholar Brenton wisely suggested you first read “The Chronicles of Narnia” publication order first and then whatever order you like on the reread here.  They make perfectly compelling cases.

You see, the publication order goes thusly:

  • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Prince Caspian
  • Voyage of the Dawntreader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Last Battle

And what’s called the “internal chronology” order goes like this:

  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • Prince Caspian
  • Voyage of the Dawntreader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Last Battle

In 1994, Harper Collins acquiesced to Douglas Gresham’s request that they reorder the series from publication order to the internal chronological order, citing a letter to a little American boy from Lewis, where Lewis expressed his preference for the order.  Why did they do this?  Because on the surface, it seems logical—Lewis liked the internal chronological order, it starts from the creation of Narnia to the destruction of Narnia, so why not?

Well, there’s a lot about this decision that makes me want to tear my hair out.  But I want to be honest with myself, so I thought back to when I first encountered “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  Now, I know I began with “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, because that was the book my third grade teacher read to me.  But what was the next book I read?

…I don’t remember.

Yeah, I’m as shocked as you are.  I think it was “Prince Caspian”, but it may very well have been “The Magician’s Nephew”.  You see, I think around 2005, when the film was coming out, I was a sophomore in high school and my oldest brother started reading the books aloud to my younger sibling.  I was too cool to listen to that, so when they finished each book, I asked to borrow it to read myself.  And…

And I have no idea what order I read the series in.  It was the Chris Van Allsburg editions, so it’s very possible I read in the internal chronological order, rather than publication.

So obviously, I can’t really use personal experience to bolster my stalwart advocacy for publication order.

I’ll say this much.  If you’re doing a reread of “The Chronicles of Narnia”, read in whatever order you like.  Have at it.

But if it’s your first time experiencing the Chronicles, I absolutely insist you start with “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  And yes—that you read in publication order.

Lewis didn’t write “The Magician’s Nephew” first.  The book, however much the silly man likes the idea of reading his work as a linear timeline, was not meant to be the introduction of the series.  “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” is our first introduction.  We are meant to discover Narnia through the wardrobe, just as Lucy did, the soft fur coats brushing up against our cheeks interspersed with tree branches scratching at our outstretched fingers.  The wardrobe is our entryway.

I know it’s all personal preference.  But I also strongly believe we should read “The Magician’s Nephew” right before we read “The Last Battle”.  I think the full impact of Professor Kirk’s line, “I saw it begin,” said the Lord Digory. “I did not think I would live to see it die.” hits us that much harder when we have just experienced Digory’s wonder and grief in the previous book.  Seeing the creation of Narnia, in all its beauty and majesty directly before we see it gobbled up by the beasts of the end times and the stable door closed tight has a poetic pathos that I think we miss in the new reordering of the Chronicles.

Furthermore, “The Magician’s Nephew” expects its readers to have read “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  The second line of “The Magician’s Nephew” reads thusly:  “It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.”

If this is your first introduction, this question already leaves you out of the loop.  The land of Narnia?  Where’s that?  The comings and goings between our world and that world?  What do you mean, these are two different worlds?  This world is not self-contained?  This book presumes you’re familiar with the rules of the world, how Aslan calls children from one world to another through means as ordinary as a wardrobe or a painting.

“The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” doesn’t presume this.  As the first book (or what should be LABELED the first book), it takes great care to explain the differences between worlds.  What’s more, the land of Narnia is a wonderful thrill to discover because the book sets the stage quite ordinarily.  The first lines of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” begin like this: “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.” Fairly ordinary beginning, right?  “The Magician’s Nephew” establishes in two lines that there are other worlds, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” builds up to it, which I think, as a reader, is far more satisfying.

I also strongly believe “The Horse and His Boy”, one of my special favorites, should be read directly after “The Silver Chair”.  Yes, of course you can read it after “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” (I am impressed by the fortitude of one of my Twitter followers who stops in the middle of LWW, reads THHB, finishes LWW, and then moves on to PC) if you’re trying to do things in a linear fashion.  But “The Silver Chair” drops several little allusions to the story of “The Horse and His Boy”, so much so, that we can easily surmise that Lewis was in the midst of writing it or had finished an early draft and was excited to share it.  “The Silver Chair” foreshadows “The Horse and His Boy” and sets us up to read that story much more smoothly than “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

I finish this post with the full acknowledgement that snooty C.S. Lewis scholars like myself are not the final word on the matter and if your order of reading the Chronicles makes you happy, have at it.  My opinion makes no difference in the matter, though I sometimes think it does because people follow me on Twitter about C.S. Lewis and once Neil Gaiman liked a post of mine.  The important thing is that we’re reading the books, not what order they’re in.

But also the publication order is the correct order and you should read it that way.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put a #1 sticker on the spine of a copy of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” that I plan on giving as a baby shower gift.

How to Query

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I posted a little about my experience being on submission and how it is by far the most frustrating and anxious part of the process.  I have had a few declines from editors on my manuscript, I’m still waiting on some other editors, and my agent has been really great about touching base with me every week and remaining relentlessly upbeat and positive, which is a marvelous balm to my anxiety brain.  But I’d like to spend this post talking about how I got to this position—i.e., the two years I spent querying different agents to see if they’d represent my manuscript.

This is what professional writers call “query hell”.  Querying is a pain in the ass and I don’t blame any writer who hates every single part of the process.  Pitching your book to an agent is an art and I’d hazard a guess that most writers find the process more exhausting and difficult than actually writing the book itself.

So I’ll tell you how I got my agent and follow-up with some tips and tricks.  Please bear in mind that this is a subjective business (I still get rejections from agents I queried a year ago reminding me this!) and what worked for me might not work for you.  I got over a hundred rejections from various agents over the last two years so obviously, personal taste is a huge factor.

I finished my first novel, entitled “Till We Have Voices”, in 2016.  I spent nine years writing it.  I immediately started querying agents using Twitter and MSWL.  And almost immediately started getting rejections.

At this time, I also passed TWHF around to a few people I trusted.  As I got feedback from my friends and family, I started to realize that I was not a good enough writer to write the story I wanted to tell.  That this book would become my masterpiece someday, but I needed to spend a few years honing my craft and return to it later.  So I shelved it.

I’d already gotten the idea for my second novel and had been noodling around with it for a bit.  I started working on it in earnest and finished a completed draft in about eight months or so.  (That was something wonderful I learned, once you finish your first book, the others get easier to complete.)  And I started querying again the summer of 2016.

During this time, I got a lot of rejections.  Like I said before—by final count, I had over a hundred from agents.  BUT.  During this time I was also getting request for partials, request for full manuscripts, and revision requests.  And that is the key.  Once you figure out your query letter and are querying to the right kind of agents, you *should* be getting feedback and responses.

In September of 2017, I got two “revise and resubmits”.  I spent the next year and a half doing just that.  When I started querying again in 2018, I got ten—yes, ten—full manuscript requests.  In January of 2019, I got a few offers of representation and after careful consideration, I signed with Christi Cardenas of The Plains Agency.

So!  How did I get here?

Step 1:  The Query Letter.

Step 1 is what trips a lot of writers up.  The basic outline of a query letter goes thusly:

  • Personalize your letter, tell the agent why you’re querying them. It doesn’t have to be super detailed, it can be as simple as “I noticed you enjoy fantasy literature with witches”.
  • Pitch your story. This is the tricky part!  You express the plot with enough intriguing detail to capture the agent’s interest but leave enough out to make them want more.  This is where you will first introduce your characters and conflict, so be sure to make it memorable!
  • Name some other books that are of a similar genre or style to yours.  This is important.  Agents need to figure out how to market your book and giving them comparable titles makes their job easier.
  • Give yourself a short little introduction.  If you’ve published/written anything elsewhere, tell them.

Here is the query letter I sent to my agent that captured her interest:

Good morning,

I am currently seeking representation for my novel, Hell’s Heresies (91k). I noticed that The Plains Literary Agency represents a wide variety of fantasy genres. I wanted to tell you a little about my New Adult paranormal comedy.

Emerie Fox has the typical problems of a new homeowner. Leaky pipes, basement mold—and a demon poltergeist who rearranges her furniture and leaves bloody messages on her mirror. Of course, the messages are generally helpful (You’re out of milk, take an umbrella to work), but fastidious Emerie will not have vermin in her house—supernatural or otherwise. In her attempt to exterminate the demon, she botches an exorcism and accidentally unleashes the forces of Hell into her town. With the help of a sarcastic witch, a no-nonsense priest, and the extremely perturbed demon Samael, Emerie must track down every demon and close the portal to Hell in her attic.

Hell’s Heresies is an irreverent, hilarious, and profane adventure akin to Lamb by Christopher Moore or Good Omens by Neil Gaiman. The story has a love affair with everything from horror films to classic literature to rom coms–The Exorcist meets When Harry Met Sally.

I am a 28-year-old unpublished and unrepresented novelist from St. Louis, Missouri. I have a degree in English literature and currently work for Washington University in St. Louis. My phone number is 314-973-0658 and my email is kdcoffin9@gmail.com.

Thank you for your consideration! .
Cheers,
Kat D. Coffin

 

Hopefully, this provides you a sort of template that can help you craft your own query letter.  Don’t get disheartened—it takes practice!

Step 2:  Query every day.

Your mileage may vary on this one.  Some people query in “batches”, as in, only querying six agents at a time, waiting for their response, and then doing another batch.  But that’s not what I did.

I made a goal to get 100 rejections by the end of the year, so instead of feeling glum about an agent rejection, I could just add it to my tally.  I didn’t do the batch trick, which is often recommended.  If I saw an agent I thought would like my book, I queried them.  I spent a lot of time combing through Querytracker, MSWL, and Twitter to find said agents.

Step 3:  Keep track of your queries.

Hopefully you’re already doing this, but sometimes we forget to do the obvious things.  I kept an Excel spreadsheet of the agents I queried, their agency, when I queried them, and when (if listed) they would get back to me.  Rejections I highlighted in yellow, requests I highlighted in pink.  My Excel sheet looked like this:

excel pic

Sometimes agents don’t send official rejections, they just say, “If we haven’t responded after six weeks, assume it’s a pass.”  It’s good to keep track of those dates too as you can see.

Step 4:  Participate in Twitter events.

Now understand, I never had any luck with Pitmad or any of the other pitch parties.  But it’s still good to be active in these kinds of events.  Get your work out there.  Practice pitching agents with these.  Channel your inner mediocre white man and go forth with undeserved confidence.

Step 5:  Remain stubborn.

This is a long process.  See previous note about how it took me two years to land an agent.  To be in this business, you need to develop a thick skin and have a ton of patience.  Easier said than done, right?  I have a little note above my writing desk that says “Nevertheless, she persisted”, that marvelous quote about Elizabeth Warren that became quite infamous.  Be persistent.  Believe in yourself and your story.

Step 6:  Be courteous.

That said…I have seen way too many agents talk about unbelievably rude and nasty queries.  This is insane to me.  Be respectful to agents!  It’s one thing to be confident in your work, but no one is entitled to like your story.  Shit-talking agents or putting little to no effort in your query isn’t going to get you anywhere.  If an agent you really wanted turns you down, move on.  (Feel free to privately flop on your roommate’s bed and wail about how no one is ever going to want to represent your manuscript ever and how tortured you are.)  Do NOT be pissy with them.

Step 7:  Know when to shelve your story.

This is a last resort step.  If you’ve been querying and querying and querying, if you know your query letter is solid, if you have been at this for at least three years with no luck, take a good hard look at your manuscript.  Be honest with yourself.  I was so excited about actually finishing my first novel, it took me a while to realize that…well, it wasn’t that great.  It could be great someday.  But right now was not the time to pursue publishing it.

You need that sort of honesty when looking at your manuscript.  I will never, ever tell you to scrap a story completely, but sometimes it’s best to shelve it and come back to it later.

Step 8:  Keep a bottle of champagne ready for when you land your agent!  Celebrate it!  We’ve all been through Query Hell.  You’ve got this!

 

 

Because We Loved Her

 

When writer Jeannette Sears attended the 50 year memorial service for C.S. Lewis, where he was honored at the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, she wrote a compelling blogpost about the experience.  It matched how I felt about attending the service, a wide-eyed 23-year-old who was first starting to come into her own as a Christian.  She cited a quote from an old mystery novel that resonated with me:

“But it was not for her fame that they had come to say goodbye to her. It was because, quite simply, they had loved her.”

I find myself coming back to this line as I think about Rachel Held Evans’ funeral.

This is my third post chronicling the grief I feel.  My nasty anxiety demon hisses in my ear, “what, another post about this?! what right have you to grieve?! what right have you to cry?! she didn’t even KNOW you!”

I told someone at the funeral, “I was only a reader. But I loved her, so, so much.”

Their response:  “She loved her readers so much.”

It wasn’t until my grandmother’s death last year that I realized how important ritual is.

You see, Betty, my grandfather’s girlfriend and the closest thing I had to a grandmother, was a cantankerous woman.  She was thoroughly abrasive and liked approximately five people in the world: Me, my cousin Katie, her neighbor Matt, and her other two neighbors, a lovely lesbian married couple that completely changed her views on homosexuality.  (Thank God)

My point is, being the obstinate woman she was, she refused to make funeral arrangements for her body after her death.  She wanted her body donated to the local university’s med school.  No memorials.  No funerals.  Nothing sentimental.

It was perfectly within her nature, but it left my cousin and I floating a little aimlessly.  How do you grieve without these little rituals?

What ended up happening was that I took a trip to Colorado to see my cousin and we mourned her ourselves in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.  We toasted her, we laughed at our stories on her, we cried, we remembered.  And that is just what we needed.

When Rachel died, I wanted so badly to attend her funeral.  There is a desperate desire for community when you grieve, and I wanted to go so badly it ached.  But I assumed it was impossible.  Until they announced that her funeral was open to her readers.  If they should want to come.

Chattanooga is 6.5 hours away from St. Louis.  I couldn’t just go.  I wasn’t her real friend.  I had only met her twice.  I wasn’t her family.  I would be intruding.

As I often do, I texted my friend Jan.  “What are you doing on 6/1?”

She texted back, “I’m actually off that day.”

I told her I was noodling an idea around.  I told her that Rachel’s funeral was on the first.

Without a trace of hesitation, Jan texted back, “Let’s go.”

And so we went.  We just decided to.  I’m not sure I’d have been able to go had Jan not given me the courage, had Jan not immediately start making plans, had Jan’s generosity and love for me fuel her into making an insane 6.5 trip in one weekend.

I texted my friend Jennifer too, telling her we were going.  She told me how torn she was about whether or not to go.  But as we discussed, both of our certainties grew.  We needed to be there.  We needed each other in community.  In fellowship.

Chattanooga was beautiful.  I had no idea what a lovely, hilly, warm city it was.  We stayed together in a small but cozy hostel.  After getting very little sleep, we rose early, put on our black garments, ate breakfast, and went to say goodbye.

If you watched the livestream, you have a sense of what it was like.  So many familiar faces.  So many tears.  So many moments of joy and laughter.  I met people I admired from afar on Twitter, and I hated that this was the way I was meeting them.  I had moments too private and too holy to share online, moments from God that I treasure in my heart.  Gifts that I never thought I’d receive.

Nadia’s sermon was indescribable.  I hope you’ve heard it by now.  She named our grief and despair as holy and I had no idea how badly I needed that.  Amanda’s song for her sister was holy.  Reverend Brian Ward’s reminisces about Rachel’s adolescence was holy.  The way Sarah and Austin’s voices broke as they read the Gospel and Psalm was holy.  Jeff’s prayers were holy.

And Nadia, sweet, fiery, beautiful, passionate Nadia…her sermon invited us all into the sadness, told us that our anger, our doubt, our fear, our rage, our immense, immense sorrow.  She reminded us that though we do not know why beauty can come out of darkness this way, God does deal in darkness, and though we may see it now, we can have hope.

The service did not last long enough.  But there aren’t enough hours in the day to thank Rachel, to honor what she’s done for me and for so many others.  There isn’t enough space here to express the collective grief that was so palpable in that little Methodist church.  There aren’t enough words to share the pain in everyone’s gaze, the hollowness in our voices, how I asked everyone I came across for a hug, because I needed that reassurance that this aching void wasn’t only in the pit of my stomach.

Jan, Jennifer, and I went to get tacos after the service.  Tacos and margaritas.  I called my mother and cried to her about the funeral, cried about how it was all so horribly unfair.  I laughed with my friends, I cried with my mother.  Because that is what grief is.  This strange monster that accompanies you over tacos and margaritas, that allows you brief moments of distraction before swallowing you up.

The resistance is winning, Nadia said.  Light is breaking free.

I don’t believe that now.  But I have hope I will someday.

Why I’m A Bible Nerd and a Feminist

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On Twitter, I recently participated in one of the fun little meme games and asked a simple question of my followers:  Why did you decide to follow me?  I didn’t expect the dearth of heartwarming responses I received, but was delighted nonetheless.  Most people commented they followed me for my Narnia tweets, my thoughts on C.S. Lewis, my love of stiff drinks and goofy movies.  But someone said something that intrigued me.  They were curious about the descriptor in my profile:  “Bible nerd, feminist.”  They followed me because they wanted to see how I reconciled this.

The question is a good one.  From a feminist perspective, the Bible isn’t super woman friendly.  Most of the stories are from a male perspective, star male characters, and more often than not, the female heroes of the Bible get the short end of the stick.  I’ve waxed poetic on Twitter about my favorite Bible heroine, Hagar, Abraham’s second wife.  Although I consider her story’s end a happy one (she is banished from her abusive masters, her son grows up and starts a new nation), it sure took a lot of rape, slavery, and abuse to get there.

From the other side of things, Evangelicals and feminists have always squarely side-eyed each other.  I think Christianity and feminism have been intertwined for a lot longer than people realize (Shoutout to my girl Julian of Norwich! Hell yeah Junia!), but Evangelical Christianity, i.e., the Christianity that raised me, has always been a little suspicious of feminism.  Reproductive rights and social equality are pillars of feminism, after all, while Christians…well, Christians are still arguing about that.

I can only speak from my perspective.  I identify as a feminist, though a feminist with a lot of privilege, seeing as I’m white and straight.  I no longer identify as Evangelical and though I wrestle with the Lord like Jacob wrestled with Him on a near daily basis, I do consider myself a Christian.  And despite how often I yell about Evangelical doctrine, fundamentalism that hurts the people I love, and conservative politicians claiming to speak for God…I still really love the Bible.

I didn’t always.  I remember the days of “Memory” classes at my LCMS Lutheran elementary school.  We would be given little blue booklets at the beginning of the year, filled to the brim with Bible verses that we were to memorize.  I hate being forced to memorize things.  As an autistic person, I can quote most of Beatrice’s lines from Much Ado About Nothing, recite the film “The Mummy” word for word, and sing all of Kate Voegele’s catalog, but if you sit me down and tell me to memorize something I don’t want to memorize, my autistic brain will REBEL.

I don’t have fond memories of Memory class, particularly when we got older and were required to memorize sections of Luther’s small catechism.  My brain still automatically goes “We should fear and love God…” in response to the question “What does this mean?”  This is also why I’m not sure I could be Lutheran, even ELCA Lutheran, because of how many times I had that damn catechism knocked into my head.

But I do have fond memories of the Bible.  I was a total nerd about the Bible, actually.  I read faster than most of the kids in my class and would inevitably get bored in my countless religion classes.  So I would read ahead and find obscure, gory, sexy, and passionate stories that terrified and fascinated me.  We had chapel three times a week and since I am not an auditory learner (I need to be doing something with my hands, like knitting or drawing, if I’m to listen to a sermon or a podcast, but I didn’t know this as a child), I would flip through my Bible instead.

I was always crafting stories and when the Bible came into my life, it was no exception.  There was just something about it that sparked my imagination.  I have an early memory of my freshman year in high school, when we watched some silly cartoon about Abraham and Isaac.  I was shocked and angered at how villainously Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, was portrayed.  The cartoon animated her like a wicked witch and even included a scene where Hagar nearly murdered Isaac—all in an attempt to frame Sarah as the heroine.  I was so outraged at this unfair and unbiblical treatment of a character who was so obviously blessed by God (and who named Him!) I immediately started scribbling my own story about Hagar.

I was enamored with the Bible.  I took it to Girl Scout camp with me and when my uber conservative father warned me that the Liberal Brainwashed Girl Scouts might not take too kindly to my Christian leanings, I hid in the woods and studied my Bible there.  (In actuality, I doubt a single one of my camp counselors would’ve cared, but there was something marvelously thrilling about sitting in a thicket, pretending you’re persecuted by evil liberal girl scout counselors that might take your Bible away if they catch you.)

And yet, it seemed I was always arguing with pastors.  I would haunt them after church, and pepper them with questions—why does God allow evil?  Do we believe Genesis or evolution?  If we believe Genesis, what about that very convincing documentary on evolution I just watched on PBS?  Can women be pastors or not?  Do animals have souls and will we see them in Heaven?  I’ll note the Methodist pastors (I attended Methodist churches on Sundays with my mother, while the rest of the week was inundated with LCMS Lutheran school) enjoyed my questions and thought I was cute, but a couple of the LCMS pastors took to avoiding me.  Precocious ten-year-olds can be threatening to the faith.

This didn’t change when I went to high school and was required to take four years of religion class to graduate.  Old Testament my freshman year, where I wrote my impassioned fictional defense of Hagar.  New Testament my sophomore year, where I argued with the teacher and demanded how a Mayan twelve-year-old was supposed to hear the Gospel in 300 AD.  Lutheran Doctrine my junior year, where I argued about whether women could be pastors and Christ in Culture—World Religions to the secular world—my senior year.

This leads me to why I’m a feminist.

Even at my most conservative (and oh, how I was conservative), I was always something of a feminist.  It was a Methodist female pastor who baptized me at eight years old.  And we had multiple female pastors at the various Methodist churches I attended.  So much so, that it was startling to come to an LCMS Lutheran school and be told in the third grade that women should not lead or teach in the church.

This struck me as grossly unfair.  I’d been raised to believe I could do anything I wanted to do if I applied myself and to never consider my gender an inhibitor at anything.  And thus, I spent the next several years arguing with whatever poor religion teacher came my way about female affirmation in the church.

It was disheartening at times.  I remember a flier being handed out, an invitational retreat for male students who intended on becoming pastors.  I remember feeling crestfallen—I didn’t necessarily want to become a pastor, but the idea that this retreat excluded women on principle filled me with righteous indignation.

It was in the Evangelical church I discovered sexism.  And it was in the Evangelical church I vowed to do everything I could do correct this injustice.

But the thing of it is, the more you immerse yourself in injustice, the more you start to see it other places too.  I started pointing out sexism in the church and loudly advocating for female affirmation as a child.  As a college student, I noticed more and more how misogyny and sexism were dismissed.

Like the time a stranger slapped my ass in a club while I was dancing.  When I became upset about it, I was told it wasn’t a big deal.  After all it, wasn’t a real assault.

Or the time a student on a bike did the same thing to two girls who were walking to class.  It became a campus-wide joke—“The Ball State Ass Slapper”—and it seemed like I was the only one who felt horrible for the girls, who were upset enough to report it.

Or the time my interest in C.S. Lewis and gender was questioned.  Why was that important?  It was a dismissive, belittling comment that seemed to indicate that there was more important things to discuss in Lewis scholarship.  Why should I care what my favorite writer thought about women and equality?

I care because I’m a woman.  I care because I’m a Christian.  I care because I love reading feminist literature and talking about the Bible, and I’ve never found these two interests to oppose each other.  Even better, I’ve rather found they work well together, like a harmony.  Feminism helps me to consider the women of the Bible and to see the stories through their eyes; the Bible grounds me and reminds me to stay humble and pursue justice in my identity as a feminist.

The Bible points to the world and says “Hey, there’s something wrong here!”  So does feminism.

Harmonizing the two isn’t as tricky as people think.

Loving C.S. Lewis as an Exvangelical

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The road to leaving Evangelicalism has been long and fraught with tension.  I wrestled with Christianity from 2008-2010, recommitted myself as a Christian on the rainy streets of Oxford in 2011, and then…promptly went back to wrestling with Christianity again.  Or at least, the Evangelical Christianity I was raised in, which I thought was the only Christianity worth believing in.  But I lost faith more and more as I sought for a space that would grant my LGBTQ friends communion and fellowship.  Less hot pastors in skinny jeans talking about complementarian theology, more working to create healthy community and undoing the damages of the past.

This road has had its share of bitterness.  I once described myself as a Christian to a friend, but “the crabby drunk aunt in the family that yells and insults the others after she’s had a few.”  I still feel that way a lot of the times, particularly in our post-2016 world, where everything I believe in and love seems under a particularly vitriolic attack.

I haven’t looked back, for the most part.  I felt the loss of community and that sweet, sweet wine of certainty I used to have, that wonderfully addictive self-righteousness that would fill me up after every service.  had it all together.  had all the answers.  It’s a potent drug, to be sure, and if truth be told, I’ve been searching for that high in every church community I’ve been a part of.  But I’m never going to get it again, because it’s unhealthy and it was killing my soul.

It’s easy to laugh at creationism, to get angry about how my LGBTQ friends have been treated, to deconstruct the toxic messages of purity culture piece by piece.  That part was easy to walk away from and I haven’t missed that part of Evangelicalism one bit.  But there was one thing I was terrified of losing.

My teacher, C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis has a big presence in American Evangelical culture.  The blogger Matt Walsh, whose ignorance infuriates me on a near weekly basis, cites him as one of his favorite authors, Sarah Palin said the Chronicles of Narnia were her favorite books (perfectly understandable), and Eric Metaxas, who makes me want to to tear my hair out with his complete misunderstanding of Bonhoeffer, likes him too.  C.S. Lewis is deeply well-liked by conservatives and complementarians and Evangelicals–basically all the people I do not want to have a drink with.

So when my faith shifted, my politics shifted…I was scared my love for C.S. Lewis would shift too.  I was scared I would have to leave him behind.

And oh, how I did not want to do this.  C.S. Lewis gave me so much.  He gave me my best understanding of God, he got me interested in theology, inspired my pursuit of higher education.  He gave me Oxford.  I don’t want to write angry dark short stories about his female characters.  I don’t want to hate C.S. Lewis.  I want to love him and devote my life to researching everything about him.

Things got particularly troublesome when I embarked on my independent study in 2016.  I was granted the opportunity to go through his manuscripts and notes at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  I spent seven hours every day shut up in that beautiful ancient library with nothing but C.S. Lewis’ messy handwriting and it was heaven.  I never wanted to leave.  I knew this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Write.  Research.  Sing.  Mother.  That’s what I want out of life.

I was hoping, in my research, to somehow prove Lewis wasn’t as conservative or Evangelical as others thought.  I wanted to prove that Joy Davidman, his fantastic firecracker wife, “cured” him of his earlier biases.

This had…mixed results.  I learned two very important lessons:

  1. Nothing in academia is linear.  People do not fit into neat little boxes all wrapped up in string.  Lewis is no exception.
  2. C.S. Lewis is not as conservative as conservatives make him out to be, neither is he as Evangelical as Evangelicals make him out to be…but he is also not as progressive as would like him to be.

After my senior thesis, I gave Lewis a wide berth.  I couldn’t tame him with research after all, but neither could I let him go.

But then…oh, then.  Then I gave a long infamous Twitter thread about the popular misconceptions of Susan Pevensie.  (You can read my full post on that here!)  And then I realized how much I missed talking about C.S. Lewis and sharing in his scholarship.

So I started tentatively rereading him.  Bit by bit.  And to my absolute delight, I saw things from an Exvangelical perspective that I’d never seen before.  His ideas on gender and sex had certain problems, yes, but there was also strange strands of progressive ideas that later feminism and queer theory explored too.  His flummoxed and shocked an American church program by talking about sex frankly and openly, which led me to wonder what he would think of the Evangelical purity culture movement.  The Calormenes presented some racist caricatures…but were almost immediately subverted by Aravis and Emeth.  Jane Studdock was ordered to “dream no more, have children instead”, but Queen Orual ruled a nation and fought for her queenship through honorable duel.

There was so much there.  And not only that…I had things to add to the conversation.

We are used to looking at Lewis through a western lens, through a lens that, forgive me, has been inundated with white male readings.  That’s all very well and good.  But what can women bring to reading Lewis?  What can black women bring to reading Lewis?  Or Muslim women?  Or trans men and women?  What could gender fluid people bring to Lewis’ separation of sex and gender?

There is so much THERE.

And I intend to discover it.