Light Your Fire With Fiction
By KL Pereira
I am lighting myself on fire. Why? Because my mother told me to. Told is perhaps inaccurate. She incited, yes, and at times cajoled. When that didn’t achieve the desired result, finally, she begged.
I have always had a fear of fire. Especially my own fire.
“Don’t walk through your fears, run through them,” she yelled. “RUN!”
My mother (who I mostly call Mamacita) is a huge proponent living dangerously, of what she calls “living as if you are dying.”
A few years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamish cell carcinoma, which basically translates to advanced throat cancer. She’s a survivor. Which means a lot of things: it means that she is alive today and it means that she gets very impatient when someone (read: her daughter) isn’t living like this day could be their last, doesn’t be all they can goddamn be (she swears now, too). In short, she is impatient with fear. And she is particularly impatient with people who do not commit to who they know they are because they are afraid to be that person.
“You are the next JK Rawlins. Top of the New York Best Selling List. So what are you waiting for?” (This is what Mamacita calls JK Rowling and The New York Times Bestseller List. Don’t try to correct her. She’ll just scoff at you and turn her attention back to Ellen Degeneres, who is her favorite person in the world.)
For the most part, I’ve shaken my head at her, laughed even, at her attempts to get me to light myself up. Instead of listening to her, I fretted about what would happen if I did strike the match: what if my fire was too hot, or not hot enough? What if it took me somewhere unexpected? Surrendering to the fire and trusting myself to sustain it and it to sustain me seemed insane. It would mean going wherever the flames took me, not walking, but running through my fears.
For a long time, I sat with the book of matches and asked myself: What would it mean if I failed? What would it mean if I didn’t try?
About a month ago, I left my Midwestern job and city. It just happened to be my birthday (which is always a harbinger of something, even if just another year) so we stopped in Centralia, PA., a town that has been on fire since 1962 (this part is not a metaphor). It was perfect, an appropriate door through which to enter my new life; I stood over a smoky scar in the road and lit my match.
Since then, I’ve been writing every day. I’ve committed and recommitted (by the day, the hour, the minute, and yes, even the second) to being a writer, even when I didn’t feel like it or was sick or pissed off or heartbroken. I’ve finished a draft of my short story collection and I’ve been teaching writing with some amazing folks in my courses at Grub Street (and yes, have successfully managed to feed myself on a teacher’s pay). I’ve been prepping for my upcoming courses, and I’m particularly jazzed about my genre fiction courses, like Crafting the Villain, Blood and Bones: Horror and Dark Fiction, where among many other craft issues, we will talk about fully committing to who you are as a writer, no matter what you write, no matter how much it scares you. Because now that I’m on fire, I want to help you be on fire, too. I want you to know that it’s possible to have the kind of writing life you desperately want, even if it scares the hell out of you.
So run. Don’t walk. Pick up the match.
And don’t worry. My mother said it’s safe.
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira