The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading YA

“If you are going to go anywhere in life, you have to read a lot of books.” –Roald Dahl

As promised, here is both a new blog post and a post about reading Young Adult (YA) literature. More specifically, a response to the article sweeping its way through the internets, the article which tells me as an adult I should be embarrassed to read YA—this article

Wow, I hate this article. My first response on Facebook when someone sent it to me was actually, “Wow, I hate this with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.” In the few weeks since the article was first published, I’ve calmed down; I’m hovering somewhere around code blue (guarded) to code yellow (elevated).

And truth be told, writing and reading YA as an adult means you are always somewhere around there; always ready to defend your craft, always ready to justify your habits. This, in its simplest form, is why I hated the article in the first place.  

Oh, I’m not the only one. YA authors specifically rallied against the article. After all, it makes a mockery of what we do and who we are. Actually, I’m still trying to figure out if anyone liked the article. Perusing other articles by the same author, I quickly discovered we were not at all the same person. Not in the least. We may both be women in a certain age group, but that’s about where the similarities end; which means she would probably hate reading this blog. And although we will never enjoy the same types of books, I don’t think she should stop reading her Dickens or Wharton. I firmly believe it takes a reader to breathe life into a book.  

And here’s the thing every writer and reader in the world hopes you understand: NEVER BE EMBARRASSED BY WHAT YOU READ. If you take that one thing away from this post, I will be a happy woman.

Throwing my opinion and voice into this debate may not bring anything new to the topic, but how can I not say something. I’ve thought about how many times I’ve told you, blog reader, why I write YA. Why I write at all. It’s not an easy thing. I drone on about writing because it’s what I do, who I am. It makes me both happy and more frustrated than anything else in my life. But what I haven’t done yet is tell you why I read YA.

Of course I can do that in one simple sentence: I READ YA BECAUSE I LIKE IT!

  • The article says adults read YA for escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. In fact, it’s the whole crux of the article. How dare an adult read for any of these reasons? Well, yeah, I do read YA for all of these reasons. And? I think choosing to read for any reason is a great thing. I’m not sure why someone who writes herself wants to disparage others from reading. It’s very counterproductive.
  • The article says: But if they [adults] are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something. Well, the argument falls apart before it begins:  there are teen dramas that are so much more complex than literary fiction and there is great adult literature that’s so sappy and maudlin I literally cry. Hey, you know what’s great and complex and syrupy and mushy and heart-felt and fun and rewarding and sentimental? LITERATURE. Period.
  • The article says, life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long. I say life is so short, and you will never be able to read all of the great books out there; cherish the books you love, learn from the books that are smarter than you, and forget the books you didn’t like.

Why do I read YA? 
I read YA to be inspired. I read it to perfect my craft. I read YA as a writer to figure out what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. I read YA because it’s what I’m passionate about. I read YA to learn, to understand, to find my place in the world. I read YA because I know or have met a number of YA writers, editors, agents and readers. They are my people and I love them. I read YA to escape and because it’s nostalgic, dammit. I read YA because it is insightful and fun and sad and character driven and plot driven and exhilarating. I read YA because the swearing has a purpose and makes more sense. I read YA because the sex has a consequence--or a reason--and makes more sense. I read YA because it is more diverse than other genres; you can push the boundaries of YA literature further. I read YA because I don’t want to forget where I came from, who I am, or where I’m going.

I read YA because I get to.

And maybe I’m not the girl you should be listening to. Me, the woman made up of words. The one who walks around with a book bag entirely covered in literary quotes; the one with the Harry Potter bracelet and purse; the one wearing her favorite Shakespeare quote on a ring and a scarf with an entire passage from Austen. Maybe I’m too invested in words. It’s entirely possible I don’t understand what it’s like to have no time for reading; to never grasp the full meaning of the words I'm consuming. A co-worker at the part-time job-hobby told me last week he’s never read a book in his life; he simply can’t retain the story. He also sat down with me for half an hour to try and figure out why I like to read and how I retain the story. It was a conversation that left me at once happy and sad. Happy – he wasn’t embarrassed to ask and I wasn’t embarrassed to share. Sad – because that’s a whole lot of joy I’ve found that he’ll never quite figure out.

I may, at the end of my life, discover that my words never reached the masses I hope to inspire. My writing may never get published and my passion for my craft may fizzle out with a stutter instead of burn out in a blaze. But no matter what this world has in store for me, I will always, always be a reader of books. And that’s not embarrassing at all.

“I read widely, indiscriminately. I read historical books, animal books, ballet books, detective books, adventure books, fairy tales, science books, funny books, school stories, and Sweet Valley High books. I am made of books, all kinds of books.” –Anne Ursu

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

You Must Hold Hands and No Show Tunes

First, yes, it has been about a year. I recently went to a Children’s and Young Adult book conference to reboot my extreme lack of writing. I think it might even have worked. Only time will tell (ugh, the clichés begin already). At least it means another blog post. I’m going to be ambitious and try to do a month of fun days again as well (fingers crossed all). You know, and write—as much as I possibly can.

And now for the worst segue into my actual post ever…

I love to travel, but I hate spending money on vacation. If left to my own devices, I’m fairly certain I would talk myself out of any trip. Good thing I’m rarely left to my own devices.

Chris & I had a very DIY wedding 5 years ago. Not because we were trying to save money, but because that’s the way we both are. I wanted to remember every second of the day and every guest who shared the day with us. It was my day, and I’m biased, but I’m pretty sure that’s the best wedding I’ve been to. And every bride and groom should think this—it means we did something right. DIY weddings can be quite labor intensive. For some reason I thought this meant we shouldn’t have a honeymoon right away. I was very logical about it at the time, I’m sure. But Chris put his foot down. We were going away right after the wedding—and that was that. He told me in no uncertain terms he had plans of us going away every year on our anniversary. Yeah, I know, my lot is rough—every once in a while there’s this incredibly romantic side to my husband that always takes my breath away. 5 years later and so far, British Husband and I have accomplished some sort of trip each year around the third week of August.

It’s not easy. Every year I think of some reason we shouldn’t spend the money or the time away. And they’re good reasons too—I just lost my job, we just bought a house—totally legit reasons; and every year my husband looks at me and firmly puts his foot down. Oh, I’m not complaining, anymore than I complain about his desire to do all the housework or cook a good portion of the meals; I mostly just sit around stunned by my good fortune in landing this man. He comes with an accent, too!

Last year we headed to that happiest of happy places—Walt Disney World.

Is this just hyped up consumerism?  Hells no! Disney IS the happiest place on earth, why would I want to spend Anniversary 5 anywhere else? The title of this blog comes from the signs posted everywhere at Disney World, and our interpretation of their meaning. Truly, no one wants to hear either one of us sing show tunes.

To be fair and for full disclosure, I—girl who spent a number of my formative years working for Disney—may not be the best judge of Disney’s plot to take over the world, or lack thereof. They got to me young and my brain is thoroughly washed. Still, my form of Disney-itis is very minute; trust me. I’ve seen, and met, and am quite good friends with many who have a more acute case. They are reading this wondering what the hell my problem is; I hadn’t been to a theme park in 5 years after all—that’s far too long. 

So, in August, we went to Florida for a week of anniversary bliss. And here we are months later, and I’ve realized a few things about myself and my love affair with Walt Disney World­­. Somehow, for some reason, my rather large life moments have been plotted out and orchestrated right down the middle of Main Street USA, curving over to InnoVentions and winding their way down to the Tower of Terror.

Blog-Time Over Share!

The first time I entered the Magic Kingdom I was a senior in high school and on a band trip. No, that’s not exactly a life moment. It is just a fact—I’m not unique in this, as I know at least 789 other people who’ve had a similar experience (I’ve been keeping track of my mundane-ity for years now).

Already there’s a side note: There are two events in my life that clearly shaped who I am as a human being. Yes, sure, who I became as an adult; but somehow deeper than that: Two events that defined my very humanness.

One – being in my high school marching band. (Mundane fact #1)
The ages of 14–18 are pivotal in anyone’s life and having a very large group of my peers during that period, an organization with a purpose and lots of discipline – whacky rituals and more fun then most people get in their high school careers. SO. IMPORTANT.

Two – studying abroad in college. (Mundane fact #2)
Everyone should do this. I don’t care when, where, or for how long, but getting outside of your comfort zone and seeing the world is part of the human condition in my book. A necessary part of building morals and ethics and discovering what type of person you want to be, based on informed decisions and the knowledge that not everyone is just like you—and that’s OK.

Number one taught me how to be part of a community, good and bad parts; whilst number two taught me how to break down my egocentric world—get out there and notice other cultures and how their communities may differ from my own.

And now back to my first visit to WDW. It was the end of my senior year of high school and it was also my last band trip. My last time wearing a 7 LB wool uniform and marching in heat and humidity in the world’s most unforgiving, chaffing fabric. There’s a reason I write the books I do—a reason my protagonists tend to be 17-year-old females going through some sort of transition. It’s not just because it’s interesting and there’s lots of fodder there. No, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with this first trip to WDW. I did something really cliché on that trip. I fell in love for the first time (Mundane fact #3). Did I mention it was a transitional period in my life? My last band trip, my last couple months of high school, my first trip to WDW, the first time I fell in love, my first kiss with fireworks (Seriously, there were actual fireworks! Every girl should have that happen…I only know 20 people this has happened to, so I’m not counting first love’s first kiss with real fireworks as a mundane moment. Choose to disagree if you must). Oh, sure, I had boyfriends, and basement make-out sessions, and flirting, and kissing, and hand holding before—Um, I was a teenage girl at the time. The L-word had been bandied about as well—I was in serious like with a number of boys: some unrequited, some mutual, some forbidden; but that first love kind of smacks you between the eyes. Especially when you are a senior and he’s a freshman.

I’m not sure you lot remember your last year of high school; some of you haven’t reached it yet, but I have a very clear memory which has been manipulated and twisted about to make it into my big box mystery novel. The actual memory is me at the end of my junior year watching many of my friends graduating and just being done—so done with all of it. I wanted to be graduating too; I wanted to skip the transition into adulthood and just be there already. I spent that summer with friends who had graduated, got a job, my long-time boyfriend and I split, and I tried burying my head in the sand. But band practice in August and the start of my senior year in September loomed on the horizon; friends started leaving for college and I knew I was trapped in that stone building with an old president’s name for another year. I sucked it up and got on with it. And then I met a boy. A boy who made me laugh, made me think, made me argue about my own viewpoint when he clearly didn’t have the same ideas about anything—religion, politics, technological advancements, authors—you name it. It’s possibly the first time I found myself floundering in life looking for a lifeline. And I found one in Ben. It’s happened since then; I’ve already told you my theory on not choosing your friends—sometimes people do just show up in your life when you need them to (Mundane fact #4). By the WDW trip our friendship was at a tipping point. All of those other seniors with their raging teenage hormones and scary transitional lives sort of pushed me over the edge, and straight into Ben’s arms. Looking back as an adult, I get it. Everyone was going through the same crap in their own way and we were all too preoccupied with our own stuff to really get a handle on anyone else’s (Mundane fact #5).

Looking at this first WDW trip through my adult-filtered memories, I finally realize just how much a few short days in the happiest place on earth played a part—not in me becoming a writer—but, in what I choose to write about. Now you’re saying any other trip could have done that. Maybe you’re right; I’ve just said these experiences are not unique to the 17-year-old transitioning into adulthood. Surely location has very little to do with it. Then again, setting is an important part to any story; I think I have a case for WDW being just the right amount of surreal and fantastical to stick with me more than say the park down the street from my house, or the high school gymnasium.

My first trip to Walt Disney World: I fell in love and left feeling awesome and awful at the same time. I suddenly had a tragic love affair on my hands (Mundane fact #6 through #12); we were both in love, but our parents couldn’t possibly condone the relationship (to be fair, we never checked with our parents on this); and now we had to leave the most wonderful place on earth and return to reality. Which we did with tortured looks at each other across the bus and airplane; both surrounded by our own groups of not-understanding friends. (Another side note: Oh, the melodrama! I’m certain Shakespeare made Romeo & Juliet so young because teenagers make everything so very dire. It really wouldn’t work with two older leads. But, I digress.) I still have a little plush Figment—purchased for me—to commemorate the trip.

Horrified by all the things in my life that were changing, I back-pedaled and decided as much as I was done the year before was as much as I wasn’t ready to be done with high school after that trip. Of course, time moves in a forward motion for all of us—whether we’re transitioning or stagnant. (I’m going to stop counting the mundane moments in my life story at this point, you get it.) I graduated and went off to college. Chapter closed.

And almost exactly two years later I was back at WDW for my second trip—this time with my mom and a co-worker and her daughter. My stagnant self is currently amazed at just how fast things change when you are at a transitioning age. I see trip number two as an end of the really drastic change/transition into adulthood. I’d just finished my second year of college, I proclaimed my major and minor and had all my classes lined up, I was working a couple jobs to pay for school, I had different friends and was living with my future husband. Disney World was different too. No longer on a class trip, I could come and go as I pleased; and since I was working at the Disney Store, I got into the parks for free and treated them as my own playground. It was all new and different until I came across that little resting place in EPCOT; the place that marked the kiss with the fireworks. I feigned sore feet and sat there for a good 15 minutes, just remembering.

Ironically, I chose that moment, sitting there to decide I would definitely not go to WDW for my honeymoon. It had too many memories already. Alas, the happiest place on earth is for making memories. If only my life were a novel—this moment plays out with more foreshadowing then I’ve ever actually been able to write into a scene.

I went to WDW again, and again, and at least four more times after that. I went with friends, I went with relatives, I went with perfect strangers hauled from the Seattle airport when we couldn’t get standby flights to Hawaii, I went with Chris—we took my mom for her 50th birthday and dragged others with us, I went with my best friend because she said she wouldn’t have any fun at a touristy, theme park and I had to prove her wrong (I did). I became a walking guide at work and helped people plan their trips; shared short-cuts and time-saving ideas gleaned from others. I got engaged (on a plane flying over the French Alps, not Disney World) and realized I wanted a small wedding so one of my London friends (since Chris couldn’t take time off and I was going to go by myself) and I spent five days looking at all the places you could actually get married in the parks—with the Munchkins in the Great Movie Ride possibly the strangest—and looking through pictures of friends’ weddings that actually took place in the parks. In the end, I got married in an actual park in MN, reserving WDW for our honeymoon. Didn’t see that one coming did you?

I’m one of those people who’s actually lost track of just how many times I’ve been to WDW. Soon I’ll join the “Figment People” I’ve met three times at EPCOT; I think they might live there. You’ll put me up there with the illustrated Disney man—he has so many Disney tattoos I’m not sure where he stops and his tattoos start.

My Constant Marriage

The most important thing I learned about my husband the first time we went to WDW is his attitude about the spinning teacups. Watch out! Vomit inducing spins and twirls will ensue if you get in a cup with this man. Yet, I still do. I later learned, when my sister-in-law shared her similar misadventures, that this is a quintessential Whurr brother trait. A theory recently proved when the last brother-in-law got married in April and honeymooned in WDW. This time my sister-in-law and I made sure to warn our newest sister-in-law what she was in for. True to form, Paul did not disappoint. Jillian sent a photo to my phone as they were getting on the whirling teacups and I knew she was officially part of the family: Trial by teacup and all.

And there is that life moment again. I fell in love for the first time at WDW, why not fall in love for the forever time there as well? I’m not sure I can actually tell you when or where I fell in love with my husband, but what if? Those teacups are crazy­—there’s no way around it—I’d have to love him to keep going on those things with him.

I mean I really don’t think you can possibly understand the extreme spinning on the teacups:
  • Rockin’ Roller Coaster? My screams on the teacups are louder than any Aerosmith song you’ll hear here.
  • Space Mountain? Child’s play in comparison. It’s dark in Space Mountain, but you have to close your eyes to keep them from popping out of your head on the teacups. 
  • Splash Mountain? Sure, there’s a really big drop and lots of laughter. Still, not even close! At some point you’re spinning so fast on the teacups you can’t help but laugh. In fact, you can’t stop laughing; which is terrifying—because at some point you need to breathe! 
My first time on the teacups with Chris I thought, “This man is crazy! How do I get off of these things?” The second time was our honeymoon and although I knew what to expect, I knew I had to get back on. This third trip to WDW, and consequently third spin around the teacups, sealed the deal. He may bring me to terrifying experiences, but he will also bring me through them. Because honestly, as fast as he spins that little wheel, and as dizzy as I am when I get off¸ (no, seriously, this last time I overheard a castmember say she’s never seen them go that fast) he always keeps a hand on my back until I can stand upright alone and never spins fast enough for me to actually vomit.

I feel exhilarated but safe the entire time.
What more can you ask for in a marriage or in life?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Difficult Conversation

No excuses. I haven’t been in the mood or frame of mind to blog at all recently. Obviously I’m getting around that obstacle and moving into a place where I need to vent through writing.
And here’s the thing:  Everyone has something to say; but writers also need to be heard. It’s a compelling force of nature—the words remain inside my brain for only so long before they are propelled out through my finger tips (and sometimes tears) onto this blank canvas. So here are my words, my truths, my own self splashed across the page.

Hard Truths

There are things that no one talks about. At least not loudly—and I’m not sure why. Yes, absolutely personal.  And yes, possibly that’s why the talking stops. But still, so many people go through the same experiences and people aren’t saying a thing. So here it is: In the past four months I’ve had two miscarriages. I guess that means we’ve moved onto deciding to have kids; but then again, neither pregnancy was planned at all. I’m not sure we’re going to try again either.

And here’s the other thing:  At least half the women in the world have gone through it; so why aren’t we talking? It is a very lonely experience; and I don’t get that. Because there is a difference between lonely and personal, but I feel society has made it a taboo subject. That makes me angry.

I’m right there with you all; I’ve not talked about it a whole lot. And when I do talk about it, it tends to be with my male friends and family members. That, I really don’t get. This is a decidedly female only affliction, but I’ve had the hardest time getting my voice to sound when I’m talking to a female friend about it. What the hell is wrong with me? I’ve seriously contemplated how very ‘un-feminist’ I am. Where’s my sister solidarity? I mean we are the only gender of our species that can go through this, right?

Well, no. In fact my husband would disagree with that comment. We may be the only gender to feel the pain of our uterus shrinking back to normal size and hormone levels dropping suddenly and drastically. We may be the only ones to feel the indignity of the tiny little operating table, the arm and leg straps, and waking up to an emptiness that goes beyond anything we’ve ever felt. But we aren’t the only gender to go through the loss. And maybe it’s because I’ve always had more male friends than female ones, but for me, the men are much more willing to talk about it. And not just the, “I’ve been there” speech I’ve received from most women I talk to about miscarriage.

No, my male friends says things like,

“We went through that, and it was rough but then I realized the wonderful, great kids we do have wouldn’t be here if we’d stayed pregnant before.”

Or, “Keep trying, you’re going to be great parents because you’re great people.”

Or, “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why it keeps happening but you’re so strong and amazing.”

Yes, have I mentioned:  I have great friends.

I’m quite positive I wouldn’t—and won’t, in the future—be any better. If I have to say anything, I’m sure I’ll come up with the, “I’ve been there” speech too. Much like any loss, I get tongue-tied and awkward and only ever think: “THAT BLOWS!” Well, because it really, really does.

My Own Self

Possibly the greatest thing about being in the midst of my 30s is the fact that I know exactly who I am. I’m not angsty or searching to become someone; I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m not saying this makes miscarriage easy or reactions different; but I’m not still wondering what it would be like to have kids or not have kids. I’m also old enough to realize I won’t completely get it until I’m holding my own child. More like I’m OK if I don’t ever completely get it. Yes, my relationship with my husband will be different if we have kids then it would be if we don’t; but I’m fine with that knowledge too. Both relationships will be strong and caring and that’s all I’ve ever wanted from a life partner situation.

Who am I? Where does self discovery lead?

Mostly, I’m just me; a strong woman who cries a little more than she’d like to—one who has a passion for writing, life and friendship. I’m a person who is more willing to work a part-time job-hobby I’m not totally invested in so I have time to enjoy my life, write what I want to, and cherry pick freelance projects I’m interested in.

Although I don’t always sound like it—I am a feminist. Maybe just not in the strictest sense of the word; I want women to feel good about themselves. I want women to be empowered. If that’s Bratz dolls, make-up and Twilight, so be it. That’s not who I am; I’m more yoga, jewelry and Harry Potter. But if I’m thrilled a little boy wants to express himself by wearing a princess costume, then I’m thrilled when a little girl does the same thing.

Eleanor Roosevelt had it right, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I write YA novels with female protagonists because I want every girl out there to know she is important, that she has self worth. In my world Jane Eyre, Anne Shirley, Buffy Summers and Hermione Granger are all worthy role models.

I do have more male friends than female ones. I do like a good cozy mystery where sometimes the guy gets the girl. I tend to like more male tennis players than female tennis players; I think their matches are more exciting to watch. I really enjoy Doctor Who. And for some reason all of these facts were making me re-think my ideas on feminism. Throw in my reactions to miscarriage and I’ve had to sit down and re-evaluate my character. I’ve discovered my own worst enemy is my inner-voice disagreeing with the simple facts laid before it. But, wow; that’s dumb.

Idiosyncrasies Abound. But Hey, That’s Just Me.

When you go through something like miscarriage, there’s always a shock factor. I don’t mean you’re shocked that bad things can happen to you; I mean you are shocked by your reaction to some part of the experience. Mind-blowing, soul-changing, unexplainable shock. I think we’ve established my strong support system of friends and family. So please prepare yourself for the shock I got when returning to the part-time job-hobby after miscarriage number 1. I spent two days at home dealing with it. I talked to friends and discussed everything with Chris, and although I was sad, it was mostly just a very surreal experience. I was barely pregnant. I took a test one day and then a few days later I started bleeding. It was quite clear what was going on—a conversation with my doctor confirmed my fears. It might hit harder for women who are actively trying to conceive; those who go through the ovulation kits and timed intercourse. In that case, a positive pregnancy test and then obviously not a pregnancy would send me over the edge. But we weren’t trying. And like I said, the experience was mostly surreal. In fact, if I didn’t take a test, I wouldn’t know I was pregnant at all—just a little late. I was in a good place when I returned to work.


In fact, I was a crazy basket case who almost ran out the door screaming. This was a strange place to be: at work in tears with crazy, roller-coaster hormones flat lining quickly and suddenly. No one at work knew, for obvious reasons. My options were very few. I ran into the operations manager’s office and slammed the door. The man was brilliant. I mean, honestly, my respect for the guy and his position soared. I’ve worked in operations; I get the babysitting and just the general go-to-ness of the job. But now I’m beginning to understand why they get paid so much.

My reaction at the part-time job-hobby was, by far, the most shocking part of this entire experience. I don’t think about the job-hobby much; it’s the place I go to get insurance, to pay my mortgage, to buy food and clothes so that I can have a career as a writer. It was the littlest of all the evils and yes, most writers have a part time job. Successful writers who publish still need them. And mine pays a decent salary and comes with a pension and 401K besides the health benefits. It’s why I’m still there. It’s also why I was SO very shocked. This place I go to in the morning 4 or 5 days a week—this place I don’t think on, with people I don’t think on—was the very place I got the support and comfort I needed on a meltdown day that was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

And then I got home and realized, yet again, that my support system appears to be made up mostly of men…I’ve been living a four month long emotional, physical and logical roller-coaster ride.  

Easy Truths

I’m just about written out now. There’s probably a lot more to say, but I no longer need to say it. I am humbled by the entire experience. I’m humbled by my reactions, by my own journey through these rather dark days, and mostly by the support out there once we all do start talking about it. I thank every single person—from the ultrasound tech who burst into tears when there was clearly no heartbeat to my mom, who had 4 or 5 miscarriages of her own and told me how much I needed to share the experience with others. Mostly I’m humbled by all of you who did share your own stories—man, woman or child—“I’ve been there” turns out to be a comforting conversation starter.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Changing My State with Kings

I’m having a serious relationship with Mumford & Sons right now. It’s been going on for a couple of months. I think Chris knows. I keep singing along off key when I think he’s not in the room—only to realize he’s standing right next to me trying to ask me a question. It’s not at all surprising that I like a folksy/alternative group from the UK; try to contain your shock. Still, I find myself saying, “Yes. Exactly!” out loud, repeatedly as I walk around with my iPod plugged in.

Mumford & Sons recently released their second album, and it’s good. I, however, am obsessed with their first album, Sigh No More. Without doing a lot of review reading, I’m guessing most people agree the first and titular song is heavily influenced by Shakespeare—that rat bastard. Using actual lines from Much Ado about Nothing, kind of makes that critique a given. A quick interwebs search—I do like to have my own opinion after all—reveals a generic view about literary works as inspiration for this album. I get that. But I have to tell you: Every time I listen to this album I’m transported back to a college Shakespeare class—like for every single song. In my mind, each song evokes a Shakespeare play or sonnet.

Listen to “Awake My Soul”:

This song makes me think of Shakespeare’s sonnets on friendship. I’m of the opinion that his first 126 sonnets are about friendship—many are on the bandwagon with me, but I know not everyone is. Choose to disagree and we can have awesome Shakespeare rants on my blog! Do it! You know you want to. All the cool kids are having awesome Shakespeare rants. Really! 

Yes, yes. These boys are obviously strong in their religious faith as well; didn’t miss the obvious, promise. But a good song, like a good book and a good painting, has layers of meaning and plenty of room for listeners, readers, viewers to find their own way. It’s also up for a little critical analysis.   

Was that a really long way to go to tell you I’m writing about friends and friendship in this blog post? Listening to that particular song and thinking about Shakespeare’s sonnets led me to thoughts on friendship. That led me to the old adage, and also Harper Lee quotation below, about friendship:

“Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ‘em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
                                                                                                --To Kill a Mockingbird

Combine all of these thoughts and ideas and you get to the crux of my current dilemma. It’s not so much a dilemma as a question:  Can you really choose your friends? 

You think I’m just plain silly now, don’t you?  But, honestly, can you?  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and walking through a list of my friends. Literally, I looked at each of my friends on facebook; and not quite so literal, when I left a school or a job, which friends stayed with me and which friends were probably just acquaintances? It gets tricky pretty quickly when you combine your literal and non-literal lists. Quite a few people show up in both my “just acquaintance” column and my “Facebook friend” column. Another dilemma; does social media clutter our lives with people who don’t need to be there? If you are tweety-twatting, the answer is yes. Of course you are. But then I’m a little biased. Although, truth be told, I’m wearing down on the Twitter-­is-all-bad front. Possibly—if you know how to be non-boring and monotonous—Twitter is a good place for you. Like if you are Steve Martin. I’ve actually almost joined Twitter to get his tweets. There is only one Steve Martin, so I think 90% of you are still just telling me the color of your couch (something I did in a Facebook status update just last week…dammit). Alright, one dilemma at a time, please:  Can you choose your friends anymore than you can choose your family? I just don’t think you can. I know I’m crazy, but I think I might also be right. 

I’m not saying our lives are pre-ordained or anything; but I do think, sometimes, people come into our lives when we need them or they need us. It’s happened too many times in my own life for me to chalk it up to coincidence. And those “just acquaintance” people I mentioned before sometimes turn out to be actual friends you just don’t need to talk to that frequently. You know these people. You run into them randomly after months or years without talking and you pick up like you’ve just had a conversation. It gets really weird when you compare notes and realize you’ve been living somewhat similar lives on opposite ends of the world—or, similar lives almost next door to each other. I tell you: this is why we invented cyber stalking. To keep track of the friends you don’t get to see often, but who’ve somehow managed to have a deep impact on your life. Just to make sure they’re doing OK, they got that career they’ve always wanted, wrote that novel, finally met the one; accomplished those things in life that brought out the true potential you always knew was there.

But did you choose that person to care about? Because that’s what friendship is to me.  That’s what Shakespeare is writing about in those sonnets and Mumford & Sons are singing about in those songs. You support your friends, you care about them, you listen when they talk and you share when they want to listen.

I am lucky enough to have a ridiculous amount of support in most things I attempt, and a fair number of true, devoted friends who listen to me babble (at best, bandy words about willy-nilly, really) without repercussions. There are at least 4 people I can say anything in the world to and they won’t hold it against me. There are a handful of others who support me, but call me on the carpet when I do or say something I shouldn’t. You need both kinds of people to survive. I truly believe this.

Currently, I’m spending most of my spare time trying to get the box store murder mystery manuscript to a completed second draft status so a call-me-on-the-carpet friend of mine can read it while she sits through her chemotherapy. This is proving to be a crazy task, as I keep breaking down whilst writing. It’s too close to home. My friend, in her seventies, has uterine cancer. This same friend was quite helpful when I was having my own uterus trauma and then went and contracted the disease herself. It’s a horrible sort of irony I still can’t quite wrap my head around. And there’s my guilt again, right on schedule. I shouldn’t be. I didn’t give her cancer. Feeling guilty just puts my ego into her disease, and I really have no place there. It is her fight and battle. But really? Seriously? Why do some people have so much on their plate? Why are the good ones not safe from horrible diseases? Why am I asking cliché questions there’s no good answer to?

When I’m overwhelmed with the writing and the tears, I do what anyone else would do, I turn to a friend and vent. I do it like everyday though. I vent to another friend every day. And for some reason, the friend I choose to vent to is the exact opposite of a 70-year-old woman: he’s a twenty something guy I can say anything to. I like the dichotomy; it’s somehow reassuring and sort of balancing. And, you know, good friends listen. Or read, as most of my venting/word vomit comes in the form of Facebook messenger chatter. So, yeah, if I were choosing my friends I’m not so sure I’d be spending most days worried about, caring about, thinking about and talking to an older woman and a younger man.   

In a nutshell: I think both Shakespeare and Mumford & Sons are trying to tell us you can’t actually choose your friends.

Sonnet 29

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
   For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
   That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I may not be able to choose my friends, but I can certainly thank them for their support and general awesomeness. I am one lucky girl who gets more than a little help from her friends.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blind Faith Fandom Payoff

I’ve finally gotten around to posting this video from YouTube as a follow up to my Learning to Love Disappointment post from February 2011.  The final moments of the US Open Men’s Final – known by me as the day our lad did indeed get there – as seen through the eyes of a pub full of Scots.  Yes, it did make me cry and I did watch it more than once.  Brilliant, amazing and overall one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever seen…I think I mean the match; but I most likely mean this video too.

And in case you want to sing along (Of course I did!):

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again,
That fought and died for,
Your wee bit Hill and Glen,
And stood against him, (‘gainst who?)
Proud Edward's Army, (bastards)
And sent him homeward,
Tae think again.

Those days are past now,
And in the past
they must remain,
But we can still rise now,
And be the nation again,
That stood against him, (‘gainst who?)
Proud Edward's Army,
And sent him homeward,
Tae think again.

Pure dead brilliant!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Switching Genres: Anticipating The Casual Vacancy

See how there’s more blog time now!  The freelancing-office-fun-time job has ended and I once again have the time to use Barnes & Noble, Caribou or Centennial Lakes as my office space.  Yes, instead of sitting in front of a computer making money, I’m spending money on tea and those yummy lemon-raspberry squares; but $4 dollars a day is cheap rent considering how much time I can spend in these locations.  A horrible, really bad day at the part-time job hobby can be totally eclipsed by walking across the street and pulling out my laptop!

Now down to business.  Geeky book business that is imperative to the world as a whole; I tell you.  Who is going to buy, read, or borrow the new JK Rowling book?  It arrives on September 27th and is apparently already the #1 bestseller at Amazon this year. Thoughts on diversifying your rhetoric as an author – specifically one who writes for a sub-genre (albeit huge…mostly because of her) like fantasy YA?  Goodreads says this book, The Casual Vacancy, is illustrated by Joel Holland.  Who is that?  I think I fell off the information train at some point during the last year.  Who wants to fill me in? Anyone? 

Here’s the goodreads (A site I am addicted to - you know - like tennis and tea) description:
 When Barry Fairweather (hideous name, but also tongue-in-cheek funny) dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey (Was she on the set of HP when they were filming in Lacock?  Because that is an excellent description of both town and abbey and now what I will picture when reading this book.), but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils (At first I thought every Roald Dahl book ever, but then I went to a Hot Fuzz place, and there I’m staying. Simon Pegg and all)…Pragford is not what it first seems (Look, someone more cliché than me!!).

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen.  (There's a lot of war in this book.  I do not think it means what they think it means - or this would be a very dark book indeed.) Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? (OK? I’m a lot afraid, not going to lie.  But, much like sitting through The Hobbit in three movies; who’s not going to read this, really?) 

And here is the Barnes & Noble blurb they sent to my email account. (Owning a nook means I get more email from B&N than any actual person I know and correspond with.):
A councilman’s death is the catalyst for a cascading series of intrigues in “A Casual Vacancy,” the first novel written expressly for adults by JK Rowling (You say novel but then you put the title in quotes…I expect more from you B&N emailer/copy lackey), creator of the Harry Potter series.  Not everything is as it seems in Pagford, the English countryside town where this irresistible novel is set. (At least the cliché is not lacking from you, B&N lakey).

The actual description on the site is the same as the goodreads site, so I’m assuming this has come from the publisher (Also, I’d do that job and probably love it.  Proudly call me a copy lackey then).  B&N has left in this gem that goodreads removed: Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is JK Rowling’s first novel for adults.  (Is ‘thought-provoking’, especially combined with ‘constantly surprising’, the kiss-of-death for book blurbs?  Like ‘have a nice summer’ or ‘stay sweet’ is for yearbook signings?)

The goodreads readers seem to be seriously disappointed in the cover…reminds me of the infamous hanging chad on the 2000 ballot and also old school Agatha Christie covers. I think I'm just fine with it and probably it is showcasing Joel Holland's illustrations.  On a side note, why does a book written "expressly for adults" need an illustrator?  Oh, publishing world and your confounding, fair weather ways.

I want to have a serious opinion about this entire thing, but I find I don’t.  I’m not as excited as I usually am when a favorite author pens a new novel.  And really, besides YA I read a lot of mystery (I really need to own more cats to establish my quirky crazy lady vibe) and I’m fine with the cozy, it’s what I grew up on.  I don’t think they are always well written – although Ms. Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers certainly had it going on in the writing department – but HP is so very epic.  The kind of thing you end your career with; not start it with.  JK is possibly just working in reverse.  For all I know the publisher and press kit have ruined the actually book to get it out there; maybe it’s not at all like I imagine from these quick blurbs?   Possibly it’s not a mystery or a cozy either, but just feels that way from the cover and blurbs I’ve looked at. Maybe I'm putting too many of my own  preconceived notions onto a book that I haven't read and know very little about.  No, that can't be it! Oh, wait...

I’m not entirely sure I have a strong opinion about switching genres either.  I write YA.  I read YA because I write it and also because I like it.  The book that is closest to being ready for a publisher to look at - in other words, the one I use when querying agents - is a mystery YA, so a sub-genre.  My first and probably most epic like novel (see I’ve already contradicted what I wrote up there about JK and HP?!) is strictly not YA according to a YA publisher I’ve chatted up.  He’s not willing to see anything with a protagonist older than 18 – and I think even that might be pushing it.  Proving once again that everything in the writing world is in the eye of the beholder and mostly based on a whim.

Ahem, I feel like this has turned into a rant about the book publishing world.  Sorry, sometimes I get a little carried away.  All the time in my head, but only sometimes in the blog.  Promise.  

Where were we?  Yes, I’ve thought about writing a few other things/genres, even a cookbook or travelogue to break into print.  But once I’m a writer, who doesn’t need a part-time job hobby, (I just snorted into my tea) would I switch genres?  I guess if the muse took me there.  As long as you have something to say and it’s worth putting out there, why not?  

Oh, I can feel the publishing world rant coming back.  Briefly, I think categorizing is one of the biggest issues/problems facing an unpublished author.  We've been told to put ourselves into these boxes and they don't always - might I even dare say, rarely - fit what we're actually writing.  In recent events like the self-publishing/big house publishing crossovers arising (I'm talking about Penguin Group recently acquiring Author Solutions Inc - a self-publishing service provider) I'm not sure it works in the publishing world anymore either.  The hard part is figuring out when to mold and twist to fit into the publishing pocket and when to hold and stand firm with your convictions, your writing and your characters.  I'm really done now.    

Thoughts, ideas, plot points you’re willing to share? About any or all of that?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Screwing my Courage to the Sticking Post

After a year of not blogging I’m going to enter again with a clichéd song quote. But it’s so perfect for the all-too-personal post that follows and it’s helped me through at least half of the past year.

I’m trying to tell you something about my life.
Maybe give me insight between black and white.
And the best thing you’ve ever done for me,
Is to help me take my life less seriously.
It’s only life after all.

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable,
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket.
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it.
I’m crawling on your shores.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains.
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains.
There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive; closer I am to fine.
                                                                              -Indigo Girls, "Close to Fine"

Simply put, a year is a particular amount of time. Some years speed by and some are excruciatingly slow. Like everyone who has to age; years seem to go rapidly the more of them you have under your belt. But this year was really quite different for me. I learned some stuff – I actually thought I might be too old to do that now. As you may recall from previous blog posts, long ago and far away, I’ve been in limbo for quite some time. Not sure of my place in the world, knowing it’s not my current location but struggling through nonetheless. When I think about a sane, steady place in my life; a time and location that made sense with who I am, I repeatedly end up at the office/copywriting gig. Quite honestly, I don’t know why this is. This past year, I discovered I lost myself in that job. I think the office space does something to the time and space continuum; there are big chunks of that time missing, and I don’t know where they went. It’s kind of like never going home again. Copywriting was never going to be my career, but I’m pretty sure it would have been without my even noticing had it not been for the slap in the face that is economic strife and workforce reductions.

But tell me why, over the next few years, I kept applying for office jobs? Apparently the answer is money. Who knew I was that person? Writing rarely pays the bills so I keep searching for something I like just as much, something that will pay the bills while I write. But I don’t like anything as much (If I did, why would I want to write?) and my damn work ethic makes it impossible to take any job half-assed. Dammit. Last September I picked up a freelance office fun-time gig. Which means, over the past year I’ve been working 50 – 60 hours a week between the freelancing and the part-time job hobby, just trying to be an active member of society; to be worth something. I’m not sure when this gigantic chip on my shoulder occurred, but here it sits. And yay, me, I can earn money and still work in an office setting. But there’s no time to write. And then I’m sad and then I don’t want to write when writing makes me happy. Oh, vicious circle of inactivity. Oh, slippery slope of depression and overwhelming anxiety. Dammit, again.

I was patiently trying to work through this *stuff* when I started having health issues. I’ve been anemic off and on since high school. As anemia tends to hit women between 20 & 50 who have heavy menstrual cycles, this isn’t exactly earth shattering news, but my anemia and dysfunctional bleeding landed me in the hospital with units of donor blood fed into my arms through IV’s & emergency surgery. Oh, I’m just fine. Promise. I think I was more unnerved from the hospital experience as I’ve never been a patient in one before. And considering what other people go through on a daily basis, I have no right to even be concerned or worried about my diagnosis. Of course that means I was terrified by my pathology results. Honestly, I think I put on a good face but I probably failed miserably and my friends & loved ones all know just how scared I’ve been for the last 8 months. I have something called Endometrial Intraepithelial Neoplasia or Hyperplasia; dummied down to my lexicon – there are precancerous cells growing in my uterus lining.

On the terrifying side:
-Precancer has the word CANCER in it.
-Most women with this issue have a hysterectomy (but most women are over 65) so the precancerous cells don’t have a chance to mutate into cancerous cells.
-Precancer has the word CANCER in it.
-Repeat 1 and 3, 10 more times!

On the, “I’m fine. Promise.” side:
-I went on a heavy dose of hormones for three months & have now had two biopsies since the diagnosis. So far, I’m good with no more bad cells growing and no evidence of any bad cells at all.
-I will continue to have biopsies every 3 months as long as I want to keep my uterus.
-I will be seeing an Oncologist on a regular basis who knows what to look for.
-Precancer doesn’t mean you’ll ever get the disease; it means everyone keeps checking on things (and insurance suddenly pays for those re-checks) because you are predisposed to cancer.

Ironically, just before I was diagnosed, Chris and I were really starting to talk about the pros and cons of having children; the likelihood of loosing my uterus before menopause sort of pushed the timeline forward. Alas, we’re still not entirely sure we’re the parenting type of people; but, we are willing to be slightly more proactive about figuring that out and attempting the family idea. Not sure what it says about us; to confront the imminent demise of childbearing organs and still not figure out if we do, indeed, want children? I think our fear might be wrapped tightly around us both at this point. Please note: these are topics I don’t discuss with my friends and family even, but I think about them, which means I write about them too.

These are my serious, fear-cocooning issues of the past year – well, some are fundamentally part of me and have been around since I’ve been around. And that’s where the screwing my courage to the sticking post and spanking my inner moppet come into play. I am absolutely trying to stop being so cautious with my life. You know, maybe start living it; which means growing up a little when it comes to house buying (something else we did this year!), baby making, novel publishing, and so forth.

Fear is not supposed to be my safe place. It is no place to live. I’m going to sound super cliché here: Do what you love most in the world; that thing you can’t stop doing no matter how crazy it makes you. I DO have things to say, I want other people to hear my voice and I’m just really sick and tired of being afraid.

That’s me reentrance into the blogosphere – this entirely too personal offering. Now we start rebuilding the fun times, book scrutinizing, and movie analyzing blogs. Can I just add here that I am so glad I did the month of fun days last August because my world kind of imploded directly after that and I’m just now sousing out the aftermath. That month of blogging sustained me through some of the darker moments in October, November, December, January and February. More fun blogs coming up! Why? Because I always feel better when I write and sharing those thoughts, ideas and musings is the good kind of fear I choose to wrap myself up in.