Discover more from From the Mind of Karis
Friends, Romans, countrymen: she's an ambitious girl
References to Shakespeare, a score of footnotes, and so much more!
We’re careening toward spooky season 🎃
It’s September, and that means we’re embarking on possibly my favorite part of the year — spooky season and the autumnal holidays. Y’all, I love fall so very much. The vibes are absolutely immaculate, I adore the cooler weather and the fact that I can throw on a sweater and a pair of leggings and call it an outfit, and I’m slowly getting into the idea of a “spooky” season.
So I know it’s only the first of September and we’re still technically in the bad season (summer), but I’ve already started lighting my fall candles and trawling Target for pumpkin light-up decorations, and I’m delighted. I’m also working on a new, autumnal book, and here’s a fun aesthetic to whet your appetite for it!
In this week’s newsletter, you’ll find:
From the heart: ruminations on ambition
From the vault: “No”
From the page: thoughts about success as a writer
As always, feel free to interact as you see fit, whether by sharing, commenting, subscribing, or just reading and offering the universe a small smile. Onward!
From the heart 💗
Oh, I’m going to scream. I just spent 10 minutes hunting down a specific article I wrote in 2015 on the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine and it’s not there. Pain and agony! I guess I’ll just have to recreate it here for y’all 😉
But let’s go back a bit, shall we? Because to start this section, I need to not dive right into my treatise on ambition, but rather talk about dreams. Not the nighttime horrors that haunt or delight us, but the dreams that we have for our careers, for our love lifes, for out families. Specifically, the dreams I have as a (very ambitious) aspiring author.
Ugh, sharing about my writerly dreams is always so HARD for me. It’s embarrassing, to let myself be seen in that way! It’s vulnerable. Because what if I share my biggest dreams (I want to win awards and hit bestseller lists) and you roll your eyes, scoff how I don’t have the talent for that, wrinkle your nose in distaste that someone would be so gauche as to want to hit a bestseller list.
Listen. I write because it’s my one true joy. But I seek to publish because I want to share my stories and, damnit, part of that involves validation and being seen by a LOT of people. Sue me.
And to tie this back to the beginning, my dreams involve being ambitious. I’ll own it: I’m wildly ambitious. I want it all— fame, fortune, awards, fellowships, grants, recognition. I want everyone from teens to their mothers to their mothers’ bosses to read my work, love my work, share my work.
Every time I contemplate my ambitions, I am reminded of that time in 9th grade that we had to memorize a scene from Julius Caesar — “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” And then he goes on to talk about how Caesar is ambitious and that’s bad, and I have always hated that, ever since I was a 14-year-old who hoped someday the world would know and scream her name.
Ambition can be dangerous, and it can be off-putting, and it can lead you down a dark path. But. But there’s nothing wrong with having big dreams. There’s nothing wrong with working toward them. There’s nothing wrong with cherishing them, with nurturing them, with fighting tooth and nail against yourself to always be better, to always improve, to always break your own record.
I think that might crystallize it, for me. Ambition should be about beating yourself, not necessarily everyone else. I want to always improve and become the best version of me as a human, as a writer, as a friend, that I can. When I stray off that path and start thinking, “I want to do better than xyz specific person,” well, that’s a little shady.
So there you have it. I’m grossly ambitious. I long for big things! For an example, I long for this newsletter to do well, to get more readers, to gain more subscribers. We’ve been sitting just below 100 for weeks and it’s killing me. I want to hit 100, 200, 500, 1,000, so much more. Not because I want to be better than anyone else. Because I want to be big, myself.
I hope that this section has been understandable and maybe even helpful. If you, too, are wildly ambitious — good. Be so. Let’s go forth and compete against ourselves to be the best, most stellar versions of ourselves we can. Onward!
From the vault 🔏
This week’s poem comes in the form of a screenshot, because I couldn’t figure out how to make the spacing stuff work on Substack! Here is “No.”
From the page ✍️
What does it mean to have success a writer and author? This is a big-thoughts newsletter, folks, we’re talking ambition and success, lol. And you may think you know what I’m going to say in this section, based on how much I waxed poetic up above about ambition and, importantly, my big ambitions.
Let me surprise you, hopefully: I think success as a writer means showing up. I think it means consistency, day in and day out, coming back to the page, to the story, to the book, to the table. I think it means continuing to tell stories in the face of all the hell that the world throws at us — and to be sure, there is much hell that the world is throwing at us.
The publishing industry is…a hot mess of bias and underpayment and “choosing your fighters and everyone else can go to hell” when it comes to which authors see commercial and monetary success. The world at large is trying to ban books that have the faintest hints of color or diversity — got a Black character? Banned! Got a queer character? Banned! Got a hint at a sex scene? Banned, my good sir! You get a book ban, and you get a book ban, and you get a what? A book ban!
I say these things in this tone not to make light of them or because I think it’s funny, but because they are, inherently, fucking ridiculous. It is bonkers to me that people think showcasing truth, whether that is the truth of the BIPOC experience in America, the truth of America’s white supremacist structure, the truth of the existence of queerness and sexuality — that that’s a bad thing. Fucking bonkers! But that’s the world we live in, and we are fighting against it, but the fact remains that it’s an obstacle. An obstacle to publication, to publishing success, to publishing longevity.
And again I go back to success is showing up. Success is gritting your teeth and saying fuck it all to those who would try to silence you, whether that’s M4L or anyone else. It’s adapting and carrying on. It’s fighting. It’s staying. It’s being.
And you know what? Not everyone can do that. Not everyone wants to have to fight, tooth & nail, for a place in publishing. I heard a stat the other day on one of my millions of podcasts that said that very few authors reach their sixth book. That’s really sad, because I think everyone who wants a long career publishing books should get to have one, but also — if anyone reaches that point and decides this career is not for them, and chooses to move on to seek their joy elsewhere? Good for them. May they have unending peace and success in all their endeavors.
Being a successful writer is about showing up, and not being a successful writer is not a bad thing. People change and grow and someday, maybe, I myself won’t want these things anymore, and I’ll recognize that that’s its own form of success.
I feel like this has meandered a bit, and I also feel like pointing out that this is just my definition of success as a writer. You may have a different one! You may have a different idea of what non-success looks like. Go you. That’s the beauty of it. We’re all different, and we have different paths, and we have different views of said paths. Go forth and prosper etc etc, you’re doing amazing, I love you!
Alla prossima 👋
Two important notes before we sign off. My good friend Sheyla Knigge, who’s an exceptional person and a budding publishing professional (she’s an agent y’all!! And a damn good one!) is offering query critiques and various query packages, and she’s offered a 10% off discount code for my newsletter subscribers! If you’re interested, click here, find the package that suits your needs, and put in the code KARISCARES (which, I see now, could also be read as “kari scares,” which is funny) and you’re off!
Come back next week for a super-fun author Q&A with a friend/debut author whose book is autumnal, spooky goodness. Have any guesses as to who it could be? Drop them below, and tell me your thoughts on the rest of this letter!
I use “aspiring” here not because I don’t think I’m a writer, because I’ve written seven gosh-darned books and I know I’m a writer. I even know I’m an author! But to me, an “author” is someone who’s published a book, and I’m not quite there yet. Maybe I should throw “published” in here, too, but that just feels clunky.
Don’t, please. I have no money for lawyers.
I don’t want to let it go unsaid here, that one of my dreams not mentioned in this piece is that I want my words to matter to teens. Awards and distinctions matter to me, but more important is getting my words and stories to teens who could benefit from them.
This may not be the accurate interpretation of that scene. I haven’t read it since 9th grade.
Man, I wish I knew what this was about! March 2010 was the spring of my junior year of high school, and I can’t remember a single smidge of what was going on then that could give me a clue as to this poem. I guess someone told me no, and I was mad? What I really love about this poem, apart from how dramatic it is, is that it plays with space and formatting in a way I still love to do. Turns out 16-year-old Karis knew a thing or two!
Lest you think I am bullshitting you, please know that I was deeply ambitiously pursuing a journalism career in college and right after, and I realized in grad school for journalism that that wasn’t the right path for me. I am not a successful journalist! I pivoted. AND THAT’S FINE. I can still have a successful career in a field I’m actually excited about.