Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ramblings of an insomniac writer

Another Tuesday night at 1:47 am, another writer with eyeballs drooping but an inability to turn off her mental energy. Has this ever happened to you?

What runs through your mind in the middle of the night, my fellow insomniacs? Here's what's bouncing around mine tonight. Join me and my Christmas tree on an ADD look at the inside workings of a creative's mind!

What got me started thinking was when I rolled over and asked my husband at one o'clock this morning to explain just exactly how does a time-release capsule work? Why doesn't it all just leak out and into your bloodstream at once? Let's just say he wasn't overly amused. He just groaned and replied (calmly, I might add), "God, it's a good thing you're adorable." Then, he proceeded to give me a more thorough answer than the web site I Googled. I love my science geek.

After leaving our bed, grabbing some hot-cocoa, snuggling up in front of our Christmas tree, and turning on my DVR to watch The Mistle-Tones, here are the other thoughts that keep running through my tired, yet semi-functional brain:   
  • Did I really throw out those cinnamon sticky buns because I'm going back on my raw foods diet? Isn't cinnamon a raw food that promotes weight loss? Damn.  
  • Please don't let G-bug have a reaction tomorrow when we skin test her for allergies. I really cannot bear another food allergy in this household. 
  • I love when Tori Spelling pulls out some serious divatude. She's the girl you love to hate in ABC's The Mistle-Tones, played perfectly. Granted, it already aired, but the super fun sound track is now available on iTunes and is one of the best Glee-style Christmas albums this year. Seriously, if you don't want to get up and dance like Alfonso Ribeiro from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air after hearing this holly-jolly holiday music, you're probably a half-dead zombie. Okay, redundant, I know.
  • As a yet-to-be-discovered novelist, how do I get 10,000+ true followers on Twitter by October, 2013. Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Yes. I'm inspired by fellow writer Ksenia Anske. I bow to her wisdom. That, and her uncanny ability to reference unicorns and rainbow ribbons in a Tweet and still sound fun and cute and not at all too trippy.  
  • Can it really be 2:36 am? 
  • Favorite quote of all time? "It doesn't take a Herculean effort to be a miracle in someone's life." Can't find who the heck said it though. Some smart dude, or dudette.
  • Worst Disney movie of all time? Hercules. Only good line I remember from the movie? "Somebody call IXII!"    
  • Today is now officially 12/12/12, which for a number-geek like me brings shivers of delight. Not only for its symmetry, but it also holds  symbolism of the holy trinity in its neat little forward slashes.  1+2=3/1+2=3/1+2=3, or 3/3/3, or 3+3+3=9, which is divisible by 3 and ends up equaling 3, which is a sacred number, and coincidentally, my favorite number. Did I mention I was born on All Saints' Day?   
  • Is the Mayan Prophecy really just a hoax created by the Mexican government to spur tourism? I mean, really. Hotels there have been booked for years in advance. Do we really believe they wont try to capitalize on this just a *little* bit? Who bets someone's not going to be standing by the Mayan ruins selling t-shirts with snappy slogans such as, "I came, I saw, I survived the Mayan Prophecy" or "I came to Chichen Itza and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." 
  • Is it really 3:03 am?
  • Please tell me that's not G-bug crying. This is exactly why my uterus is closed for business!  
  • Speaking of G-bug, how many different types of lady bugs are there? Are they really only ladies, or can they be manbugs too? (A: Over 500 species are in the US and over 5,000 are worldwide; nope, ladybugs can be either male or female. Find out more cool ladybug facts here.) 
All right, kiddos. Time to go tuck yourselves back into bed. Fairy tale's over. The Big Bad Wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and has a warm, full belly, living happily ever after. Sweet dreams, now get back to sleep! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Walking in her shoes: great-gramma Dot

When I was growing up, one of my brightest constants was my gramma Arden. It was at her house that the cousins gathered to play -- in the attic dressing up in our mothers' old dresses; in our grampa's garden picking freshly grown strawberries and peas, or the wild raspberries and blackberries that grew alongside; playing badminton in the backyard surrounded by lilacs and crab apple trees and grapes; making dolls from wild flowers and toothpicks; swinging high in the tree nearest the garage, always there was a new swing waiting for us when the other one wore down; or running wild through the cemetery across the field. These were some of the happiest days of my childhood.

(This is my cousin Alison in my mom's first wedding dress and me in, well, I'm not quite sure what. But I love the attitude. And look how Ali rocked those pumps!)

I now call my grandmother Great-Gramma Dot, because that's what my son called her when he was three; when we lost her in a way that seemed too sudden and without warning. To say that I was devastated is an understatement. After three years of mourning and months of grief counseling, I'm only now able to talk or write about her without crying. As a writer, one of the best ways I worked through my grief was to continue to write her letters in a journal. See, my gramma and I were best pen pals; with her absence came a loss of confession and redemption. I was able to tell her anything, trust my feelings with her, and know I would receive wisdom and love in return. Continuing to release those feelings to the universe, in my grief journal to my grandmother, was a saving grace for a woman who knows best how to communicate on paper. 

This morning, she was on my mind again, as she is most days. I walk my daughter to preschool because we have the luxury of living basically in its backyard.  Every morning, I slip into my gramma's battered old gardening clogs, say a quick hello to her, and then trek my way across the street and back. After thee years of throwing them on out of laziness for errands or to just run across the street to the school this year, I've plum worn them out.  

The funniest part about these shoes is that if you knew my gramma, you'd know that she probably got these on sale at Price Chopper or Wayne's drugstore, and she most definitely would never wear them anywhere except in her garden. She'd probably even think I was off my rocker for bringing these home with me after we sorted through and settled her home. Of all things. 

Yet, these remind me of the sunny, fun side of my gramma, and not the grief. These make me smile when I slide them on. They remind me of the poem she wrote about the cells of a person that remain behind in your home and on your things. It makes me feel closer to her thinking that maybe, just maybe, there may still be a few cells of hers left in these. Something tangible I can connect to every day. That's what you miss the most when some one's gone. 

The sound of their voice laughing, saying "Colleenie!", or telling a dirty joke. The feel of their arms as they wrap you in for a hug, and then hold on longer than you think, but are grateful they didn't let go first. The slightly powdery and floral smell that makes them unique, though you can never quite recreate it because it didn't come from a bottle. The soft, thin, delicateness of their hands, that you wish you'd held more while you had the chance. 

These shoes are not my gramma; I know that if I let them go, I am not letting her go. But I've loved being able to walk in her shoes, even if for just a little while. That's the greatest gift you can give back to someone, to live in the grace of the wisdom that they've taught you. I don't succeed everyday, but I'm trying. When these shoes run out, the bigger shoes -- the life lessons, the morals, the love -- will live on for me to walk in, to share, and to hold dearest of all. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fairy tales: soul crushers or imagination builders?

Today I got to thinking about fairy tales and what they really mean to me. I'm sure we've all asked ourselves that question before, right? It started with a blog post my friend and fellow writer, Jes Young, wrote for the Speculative Salon. One of her funniest lines was, "I waited for the shiny apple that would bring true love's kiss running to revive me as I lay -- surrounded by extremely short men and deeply asleep -- in my very own glass coffin."

But it was her simple, yet thought provoking question at the end that has been gnawing at me all day: "Where do you stand on the issue of fairy tales? Are they little girl soul crushers or imagination builders?" When you really stop to examine it, it's a pretty fine line, isn't it?

Let's back up. I was raised on books, poetry, fairy tales, songs, magazines -- basically anything I could get my hands on, I read. One of my favorite first collections was my Gramma Arden's fifteen volume set of Childcraft books. My favorite volume was poetry; but the third volume was folk and fairy tales, and my first introduction at the strange and wonderful minds of the brothers Grimm, Aesop, and Hans Christian Anderson.

If we really sit down and analyze these stories, let's face it, some of them are pretty whack and scare the pants off kids in order to teach them a lesson or to get them to their happy ending. I liked them enough as a kid, but I wouldn't say I was ever overly focused on fairy tales, happy endings, being a princess, being rescued, or finding Mr. Right. Perhaps it was the influence of my strong-minded mother and her Ms. Magazines that I would leaf through instead of Highlights for kids.

Perhaps it was the "tomboy" in me that loved to climb trees, build forts, get muddy, play hide-and-seek, swim, swing, skateboard, bike, or chase fireflies rather than play tea party or wait in a castle for a boy to come rescue me. (Though even writing this makes me realize the stereotypes we place on girls, because why do these activities make me a tomboy, and not just a girl who happens to love these things too?)

Perhaps it was coming from a broken home that had me weary of everlasting love. Or the times I sat waiting for my father to pick me up for the weekend, and he didn't show up on time, or at all. Or perhaps it was the abuse I experienced as a young girl, leaving me untrusting and too self-sufficient. Either way, I never dreamed of a happy ever after for myself; it's hard to believe in men as the answer when so many had hurt and disappointed me as a child.

But somewhere along the way, at some point, that changed. Perhaps it was the example I saw from my grandparents, who were married for over fifty years. Perhaps it was the music my best friend Chrissie and I had listened to and that I began to let seep into my heart. Perhaps it was the way fairy tales let me escape the pain, sadness, and fear I often felt, and let me focus on others' stories instead. Don't get me wrong, my life was by no means complete shit; I came from a home filled with love, with an amazing extended family, with good friends who were my life-line, and a mother who taught me how to be strong. Amazingly, I was not broken. I found my way to believing in true love, soul mates, happy endings, and love that transcends time and dimension. I found my happy ever after.

Yet as the mother of a daughter, I already find myself bucking stereotypes and the cliched pink princess paraphernalia that is clearly designated for and marketed to girls in toy stores, grocery stores, clothing stores, on TV, and in children-geared magazines and advertising. This is a whole separate subject that I find is clearly a hot button for me, but it gets to my point that from a very early age we are teaching girls to be objects, princesses, who are pretty, and who get the prince. (Here's some good advice for girls from Belle, Snow White, and The Little Mermaid.)

Yes, we have cartoons, networks, and movies that are now realizing how strong and self-sufficient girls are. I think there are plenty of good examples today that are starting to change a culture perpetuated in the past. But I believe we still have a long way to go. I love the advice shared by a Towardthestars fan: teach girls that personality trumps beauty!

All this being said (and yes, I'm wrapping this up, but do you see how much Jes Young got me thinking today!?), I write fairy tales, of sorts. I write about good overcoming evil, love that's triumphant, and girls who are overly focused on guys (I'll introduce you to Chelsea Britton, the Guardian of Wind, in another blog post). But I also write about the true love that comes from friendships that never die (my Guardian Trilogy), I write about girls who find their Miss Right (wont give too much of that one away), and I create worlds where girls and boys alike can go to escape, to dream, to fantasize, and to grow their imaginations.

So, are fairy tales soul crushers? Not necessarily, if they are crafted in the right context and explained differently to girls; as writers, we need to use new language, create new visions, and help girls value themselves independently from boys. Let's continue to build their imaginations and raise girls who are thinkers, but also dreamers. Who can balance the magic and fantasy of fairy tales and make-believe while not having unrealistic expectations and placing all of their hopes and dreams on boys. It's not fair to boys, and it's not healthy for girls.

But I don't believe, at the end of the day, that backing true love, in any form, is the wrong way to go. While I love a great villain, I'm also a sucker for everlasting love, and was lucky enough to find mine. So, you can guarantee that most of my stories will have a happy ending. But they will also have a kick-ass heroine, or three!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Very superstitious, the writing's on the wall

While writing the first book in my Guardian Trilogy, The Guardian of Fire: The Neverworld, I started thinking about superstitions. We all have funny little things we do out of superstition, or maybe it's just me. In my novel, the three main characters are told, as young girls, about an ancient creature shared through folk-lore over the generations. This is the first time the Neverworld is mentioned to the girls, and although they don't understand its significance yet, it causes them to practice superstitious rituals to "ward off evil." Here's an [edited] excerpt of which superstitions Chelsea, Isa, and Grey fall prey to:

"But every Halloween night...Chelsea, Isa, and I had hopped over a headstone to ward off evil, we'd throw a pinch of salt over our shoulders as a blessing, and we'd burn a piece of sage in each of our homes to drive out negativity and promote healing for the year ahead." 

I don't really consider myself a superstitious person; maybe slightly OCD, but not superstitious. So it got me thinking about all of the fun and silly things I do, and why.

I grew up in Oswego, New York near the Fort Ontario, which is legendary for its ghosts  which are believed to be both Holocaust survivors and those of soldiers; it's so legendary, in fact, that it was recently featured on the Syfy network's Ghost Hunters

As kids, we were told that one of the graves in the small cemetery next to the Fort belonged to a soldier who was a headless horseman. As an adult, it seems silly--and even a tad disrespectful--but we always hopped over its low headstone when we were there. Not sure if that was supposed to be good luck, to ward off evil, or what--but we did it. 

I also held my breath as we drove by cemeteries and through tunnels. But I own a black cat and have no qualms about walking under a ladder. I've never thrown salt over my shoulder, but I'm not a fan of breaking a mirror (though I don't really believe it'll bring me seven years bad luck). As an adult I don't do most of these things any more. But I find myself unable to wear black socks to bed (bad luck), shutting every cupboard door and drawer before going to bed because it'll bring something bad into the home, knocking on wood when the situation calls, crossing myself in prayer as I leave my sleeping children's rooms, and I always wear my Lucky brand socks with four leaf clovers when I fly (even though they now have holes in the heels). 

I think it boils down to this: there is a negative energy in the universe, if you will, and a positive one too. The more you focus on or believe in something, the more you will draw it into your life or notice its presence (the law of attraction). So while it's okay to have superstitions if you really believe they help--heck, a lot of traditions today are born from this place--perhaps it's best not to overly focus on them or call them to you. After all, it's hard to go through life knocking, throwing, jumping, avoiding, or closing the things around you! 

I'm curious, what superstitions do you believe in and who did you learn them from?      

*After publishing this original post, I also realized I do have a lot of superstitions around numbers--particularly my favorite number 3. For example, I try to get grocery carts with the number 3 in them, my address has a 3 in it, my book has three protagonists in it, I love a good trilogy, and you know, the whole holy trinity thing I grew up with. So, I guess I have a lot more superstitions than I had originally thought!  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Q: What do you get when you cross...

...J├Ągermeister, a BMW 760Si Sedan, and a pair of shearing scissors?

A: Chapter 6!

Okay, okay, I couldn't resist. It was too good not to share. That being said, it also got me thinking about the Young Adult (YA) genre. While I do still consider my audience primarily YA, I would be remiss to not put a "warning" on the book about the mature content and language. (For those of you who don't know me yet, I'm rather partial to the F-bomb.) 

But when I think about my own teenage years, I can't really say they'd be much different than some of what these girls experience. Well, aside from the $180,000 luxury "emissions-friendly" BMW. Oh, and the demonic nemesis. Yeah, I had my differences with a few people, but none of them were ever as evil as my antagonist is about to be. 

I think on one hand, we haven't traditionally given our teenagers (and what they experience and want to read) enough credit. But things are so much different now than they were when I was in sixteen. I was reading Sweet Valley High for God sake. Well, until my junior year when (thankfully) a friend introduced me to the strong heroine and sensual experiences of Skye O'Malley and the darker, more complex Gothic fiction of VC Andrews

It's one of the reasons that pushed me into starting this book to begin with. I wanted to tell a story about these three best friends, but I wanted it to be gritty and real. I didn't want to dumb it down for a certain rating or genre. I wanted to share what some teenagers experience--which is, unfortunately, some very adult and mature situations. That, laced with some really epic mistakes that all great teenagers make!

So, I'm really proud to be a part of this next generation of writers who have the courage and the insight to write what teenagers really want to read. To be honest. To show our flaws and our mistakes and our complications. To write with a certain sense of rawness and humor. To give them the credit that they know how to separate the mature and dark content they read from reality. After all, adults use fiction to fantasize and escape, right? It's no different with teenagers. 

Let's just hope the J├Ągermeister, BMW, and shearing scissors make the cuts after I'm finished with my classic "shitty first draft" (thanks Anne LaMott!). 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Every good writer has a soundtrack, right?

Every writer has to start somewhere, and my "public" journey with my novel writing starts here. It's officially been announced, so I have to buckle down, commit to a publication date, and get my manuscript finished. I hope you'll join me on my journey and check back from time to time to see what I'm up to! 

Last night I went on a writing bender of sorts. Anyone who's a creative type understands this manic sort of obsession when you just can't shut out the ideas. When you literally feel as if the ideas are eating their way out from the inside of your brain. (Sorry for the visual. It will stick with you.) When you just wish the kids could put themselves to bed and you could shut out all the cat noise, the interrupting husband, and just the general life-full-of-technology-chatter. Despite an important Presidential debate on TV that I felt as if I "should" be watching, I couldn't stop writing instead. No regrets. 

Have you ever had one of those moments when you get a glimpse of divine intervention? When energy just syncs up the way it was meant to? That's what happened to me last night. I was in the middle of an important scene where my three young protagonists are trying to get out of a sticky situation. It's a pivotal scene where the reader gets a first glimpse that Grey, the focus of book one, may not be a "normal" teenage girl. I needed song lyrics to exactly shape the tone of this scene and a dialogue back and forth between the three girls. 

That's when I stumbled upon Ani DiFranco and her hauntingly depressing, but divinely soul-stirring, song that she recorded live in 2002. It's aptly titled, Grey. Of course, being a good and honest cookie, I still need to secure her permission to use her lyrics in my novel. But they are so captivating, and it was as if the song was written for my Grey. After all, every good writer (with the hopes of landing a movie deal) has a good soundtrack in their heads, right? 

I'm curious to know, what music inspires you to be more creative? Do you write while listening to music, or is it too distracting? How does it shape your artistry? Drop me a line with your all time favorite writing song!