I wrote the first line for Dead Girl Dying – the project that got me my agent – almost 3 years ago, at 19. I wrote 10k, then I left it alone due to mental health issues. Wrote another thing in full, a YA Fantasy, which wasn’t picked up by an agent.
The premise for DGD started off very simple. I wanted to write about a teen girl who was severely depressed and wanted to die, but couldn’t, because she was already dead. Instead she redirects the anger she feels elsewhere, mostly in finding her killer. A revenge ghost story.
I picked DGD back up after a severe depression episode that lasted for about a year. In that time, I struggled in college. I had a professor tell me I shouldn’t be in my major based on a midterm Shakespeare paper. I wanted to drop out everyday. I struggled with suicidal ideations.
I pulled myself out of it – and to be frank, while I’m no stranger to depression, this particular episode was horrible. My OCD aggravated it considerably. There were weeks on end where I couldn’t get a break from a single suicidal thought. My brain was always in overdrive; every thought I had was a fight. There were nights where my head would wake me up in 30 minute intervals to think about suicide.
It doesn’t sound pretty because it wasn’t. I’m not the same person I was before. Depression changed who I am. I thought I knew myself; I didn’t. But it’s the exact thing that allowed DGD to thrive.
I started to rewrite it last April, over 2 years later. I was in my senior year of college, writing my thesis, living in a shitty mouse-infested apartment, struggling to make rent with a part time job, increasingly worried about being an unemployed recent grad in the next few months. I was constantly questioning the path I took after high school, because for people like me, writing was, and is, a luxury. At this point, all I had was my writing and a prayer, and my professors and peers telling me to go for it.
So I rewrote it. The only thing that stayed the same was my main character and the first line: “I’m as dead as most girls are, anger in my nature like there is marrow in my bones, hidden thick and dark and red.” I do like this line, but to me, the most important thing about it is I originally wrote it as a teen girl.
When I was a teen girl, I was taught to keep my anger to myself. And believe me, I have a lot of it. (This is vague, I get it, but just know though DGD is YA, I was a nonfiction concentrate in college. I rattle off all the bad things that happened to me on a daily basis like it’s my job. It’s beside the point.) The point is this: everything I was angry about, I took it out on myself. My depression was in part a monster that resulted from that anger, and it almost killed me. Before and after I finished writing DGD at 21, I knew that.
I graduated college May 2017. I sent my first query August 2017, the month of my 22nd birthday. Got a full request a few hours later. DGD picked up a considerable amount of interest because of DVpit. I had nearly 30 requests total. I ended up with multiple offers. Previously, I planned to die before my 20th birthday. On a whim and a prayer, I got help. After, it was still a constant struggle. But if I died, none of this would have happened to me.
I wrote DGD to give teen girls a voice I desperately wanted. I wanted to give them superhero-like qualities with the same faults, anger, and moral grey attributed to male heroes, but with a spin – their superhero qualities and origin stories are relevant to their experiences as women, women of color, transwomen, queer women, etc. Their anger is important, and valid, and they don’t have to apologize for it. The most powerful thing in the DGD universe is a teen girl because I truly believe the teen girl is the most powerful thing in our world as well. Every girl in our world lives their own revenge story – their own story of survival. DGD only has a touch more whimsy and magic and time travel.
Every character I wrote into DGD made my successes possible. My main characters, River Casales, and her best friend, Moon Ji Soo, are the girls that made it possible. Writing their stories was a healing experience. I truly believe if I didn’t have to persevere the way I did – through every rejection and so forth – this healing experience wouldn’t have happened.
I still get rejections. I’m going to get loads of rejections in 2018. I’m even applying to grad school this year; I’m paying them a hefty application fee for a rejection letter, basically. But if being a writer taught me anything, it taught me to seek rejection, not avoid it. If we can apply this to our characters, we can apply this to our own lives, too. It makes revenge much more sweet.