Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In This For the Long Haul

I've been running two kinds of races in November. In a way, both of them are against time, so I will eventually lose, but I'm still going anyway. I'm stubborn like that.

The first one is a writing race: to complete my revise and resubmit by November 30th. That's been an emotional ride that ought to have a soundtrack like Rocky.

  • First, there's the part where the hero (that's me!) feels defeated and wounded after receiving the request for a revise and resubmit instead of a new contract. We're not sure she can come back from this. It's a punch to the gut and she feels sick. 
  • Second, there's the part with a mentors who helps her find her inner fire and fight again (thanks, writing community!).  Lots of commiseration and advice. Lots of good listeners. Lots of people helping me see the actionable items in the comments and make a plan. Helping me see this as an opportunity instead of a failure. 
  • Third, there's the work itself, a montage of typing furiously, deleting furiously, banging my head against a wall, pulling my hair, staring into space not seeming to do anything at all, typing furiously again, drinking tea, nodding and laughing, drawing maps and timelines, rubbing my wrists and flexing my fingers, making lists, printing things out and marking them up in highlights and red pen. (good luck, film-makers, making that active enough to be visually interesting: it's actually a lot of butt in chair time).
  • Finally, there's the sending of the email, and the waiting to see if I made muster or not. (We're hoping this one ends with my hand tugged into the air, and someone waving a new contract; but if not, we'll just film a sequel. We're not quitters around here). 

Obviously, that's all very stressful.

So, at the same time I took on a new exercise program. I'm trying the couch to 5K. I should preface that by saying that I hate running. It's not my idea of fun at all. Unfortunately, that's true of most forms of exercise…and that's taking a toll on my body. Besides feeling like a tubby lunchbox most of the time, I'm also worried about my energy, my joints, and my longevity on this planet. So, it was time to take action. I'm going to need a lot of years to get done everything I want.

Running has the advantage of not requiring a particular location or much in the way of gear. I also know a lot of chubby women who've become less so by doing a program like this one. I downloaded one of the gazillion apps out there that will "ding" at you and tell when to switch from running to walking and such and set out.

I just finished my 10th run as I write this. It was two miles long in 28 minutes. 2.5 minutes running to .5 minutes walking. It was awful. I failed in that I walked through the last running segment. I still don't like running. But there are some advantages I'm finding.

  • Guaranteed "me" time. When I say I'm going for a run, everyone else in the house nods and waves. No one (except the dog) wants to go with me, so it gives me a half hour completely to myself, three times a week. That's really rare in the stage of life I'm in right now, with a day job involving 135 children a day, two kids of my own, a husband, writing group, book clubs, stuff for the kiddos, the occasional date or social gathering, and a dog. It's guilt-free me time, too, because I'm doing something generally regarded as a healthy and wise choice.
  • The healing power of trees. O'Neill and I have been going down to the Speedway for our runs. That's an old race track here in Hillsborough, NC. It's a wide, flat, measured path surrounded by woods. It does my heart immeasurable good in the metaphorical as well as physical sense to run in such a peaceful place, surrounded by the sounds of wind in the trees and the view of light shining through fall-colored leaves. 
  • My happy dog. O'Neill is a rescue dog. An Australian shepherd, which dog-lovers know is a high strung breed. That makes him a nervous Nelly to say the least. He loves us very much, but in some ways, we're not the right family for him. He could really benefit from a lot more physical activity than living with us usually gives him. Taking O'Neill with me, besides removing any safety anxieties I have, keeps me going even when I'm chanting "I hate this" with every step. His joy is an inspiration. Today, he ran out ahead of me, then came back and licked my knee just to say, "Isn't this awesome, Mom? Thank you for taking me!"
  • The quiet. Thinking time is so essential for writing. I don't listen to music or books when I run. At first this was because I was frustrated by trying to keep headphones in my ears while I bounce awkwardly down the path. But now, it's because I get some good plotting, planning, and thinking done while I run. I plan the fight scenes, imagine dialogue, or just drift and find strange inspiration I wasn't expecting. 
So, yeah. This is terrible (both running and writing). But I'm going to keep going anyway. Because it's also wonderful. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving at la casa Bryant

A traditional Thanksgiving is a lot of work. (I know: #firstworldproblems) Even in families that divide the cooking and hosting labor, there are still many many tasks on that to-do list to do it up "right." We don't live near our extended families, so that's not possible for us.

As much as I love Thanksgiving foods and having a lovely meal with my loved ones, I don't love the work. Especially not at the end of November, when middle school teachers like me feel like they might drown in the to-do list at school, if the drama doesn't kill us first.

It definitely doesn't feel like a holiday to me to take the primary cook (me) and make her cook more. So, a few years ago, when I was overextended and making myself crazy, we agreed to take it down a notch. We order Thanksgiving from Weaver Street Market. The food is good. It's still beautiful and festive, but the time and stress is cut in half or maybe even less. I've never regretted that decision (and if my family does, they are kind enough not to say so).

Now, when I sit down at the table, I don't fall asleep in the mashed potatoes. Instead, I have energy for making hand turkeys with the kids (yes, we make the teenager do it, too), and watching really cheesy fun movies and playing board games. I get to jump in the leaf piles because I'm not hovering over something delicate in the kitchen.

That's some giving (in the give and take sense) and I am thankful yet again for my family. May this holiday (if you celebrate) bring you joy and relaxation as well as yummy treats.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nostalgia Nights: Rewatching Buffy

When my daughter was but a wee thing, and I was in recovery from a yucky medical experience, we watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series together. M was an unusually fierce child, and unfazed by monster makeup (only one monster on it ever scared little her: The Queller Demon). She loved that the main character was a pretty girl who kicked serious butt. She even had a special credits dance that involved a lot of arm flailing and acrobatic leaping. Luckily for her, I do not have video of that dance, but it lives in my memory with all my most joyous visions.

We've been re-watching the series this fall, now that she's all but grown (college in on our near horizon now). In the intervening years, we've watched an episode here and there and memorized the soundtrack to the musical episode, but we've never watched it all again. It's a double nostalgia treat for me, remembering and enjoying again both the series itself and the girls' night bonding of watching it with my girl. We're in Season 2 currently, and plan to watch the whole thing again.

Stuff we love this go round:

  • Whedon dialogue. We're especially enjoying all the random musing on words. We're word nerds ourselves, so we also wonder why you can't be gruntled, but you can be disgruntled or if sore thumbs really stick out or why it's the "whole nine yards." Nine yards of what?

  • Oz. He's our geeky, fully self-actualized dreamboat. Watching the romance build up with Willow is even better when you already know it's coming. "Who is that girl?" (It's also kind of worse when you already know what's coming after that). 
  • The Music: when the show was on, I didn't know most of this music, but now half the songs being played at the Bronze are songs I can sing along with. 
  • Cordelia. She's a fuller and more interesting character from the get-go than I previously gave her credit for (even in previous watchings of the show). She doesn't put her head in the sand and pretend there are no monsters. Like any good rich girl, she wants a professional to take care of it for her. Like any independent woman, she also wants to supervise, and might even help sometimes. 
  • The clothes. Especially Willow's. 
  • Giles. The reveal in season 2 of his history as "Ripper." What a great build and unexpected treat that was!
  • The monsters. The insect woman, the bug man, the cowboy Vampire brothers, Ted, Spike and Dru, the Incan Mummy girl, the big tentacled thing with the egg babies . . .and I remember there are still more to come!
Any other Buffy fans out there? What do you love about it? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

If Wishes Were Horses

I've been doing a lot of wishing here lately. It's something I do when I'm frustrated or worried, and there's been plenty of that to go around in 2016. So, rather than kvetching about what I'm worried and frustrated about, I'll talk about what I wish (though my wishes probably reveal my worries).
  • I wish they'd find a real cure for cancer. Not just treatment options that leave you sicker than the sickness itself, if you're lucky. 
  • I wish our education system was tenable, sustainable, and adequately funded. 
  • I wish I could vote FOR someone, instead of always just voting AGAINST the option that scare me most.
  • I wish empathy was more common. 
  • I wish I could afford to give up my day job to pursue my dreams. 
  • I wish I could let my husband give up his day job to pursue his dreams. 
  • I wish college wasn't going to bankrupt our family here in a couple more years. 
  • I wish weight loss was a simple straightforward process instead of a minefield full of sinkholes and traps. 
  • I wish cars didn't break down and have to be replaced.
  • I wish for a miracle discovery success story that bankrolls my life from here on out.
  • I wish I could afford to travel again.
  • I wish the universe would smile kindly on those I love instead of ripping the rug out from beneath them as it so often seems to do.
  • I wish "mean girls" was just a movie title. 
  • I would wish for time . . .but I'm superstitious about doing that. 
As I come to the end of 2016, I realize that it was a rough year on many fronts. But I also realize I've had a lot to be grateful for. So, November is all about finding my heart of gratitude again. 
Going Through the Change is on sale today: the Kindle edition is 99¢. If you've read and enjoyed it, please spread the word. If you've been meaning to have a look, here's your chance to do so at low financial risk. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

#IWSG: When R&R Doesn't Stand for Rest and Relaxation

Ah! I'm late posting today . . . which is maybe a sign of how much I need this group today, because I'm more than a little overwhelmed in my writing life. You see, I've got an R&R.

If you've not suffered this particular sling or arrow of outrageous fortune, let me explain. R&R, unfortunately, does not stand for "rest and relaxation." Instead, it is a "revise and resubmit." In short, you sent your book baby out there, thinking it was ready to go, and the publisher disagrees. Not enough to reject it; just enough to say: please take this back and make it better and try again.

For me, at least, it was a heartbreaker. I'd busted my bunions to get this book (the third of the Menopausal Superheroes series) in by the deadline I needed to meet to keep a 2017 release date. Since my heart was broken, I've been avoiding thinking about it for a few weeks, using the excuse of other writing deadlines to let it sit for a bit. But those deadlines all passed as of yesterday, and I'm out of procrastination excuses without getting really silly about it. Plus, if I don't start I won't finish by the NEW deadline (November 30).

The good thing, though, about those few weeks of knowing I had to do this but not doing anything about it yet, was that the sting has worn off a bit. Yesterday, I sat down with the beta comments and could read them more objectively, and look at how they might be right, instead of shaking my tiny fist at the heavens and swearing that it can't be so.

In the end, I know the book will be much better for this revision. It's just painful right now, trying to find the right road to get there, and on a short schedule. Probably, I should be thanking my publisher for not taking work that isn't really ready and pushing me to do my very best, even if it takes longer. I don't think I'm quite ready to break out the monogrammed stationery just yet though; there's still a lot of work to do and stress to chew through before then. 

I am grateful though, for their willingness to work with and keep my release date. I was trying to work faster than I ever have before, and, in my heart, I do know that the book needs something. In fact, I'm pretty sure I know what it needs, so that's a good place to be in. 

How about you, writing friends? How do you move through the stages of grief when your work is criticized and get to the revision frame of mind? How long do you stay stuck in "denial"? 


If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

The monthly question for November was: What's your favorite aspect of being a writer?

For me, it's connecting with readers. When you hear (via a review, or an email, or a conversation) that someone read your book and really "got"it--saw in it all you'd intended--that's the best feeling in the world. That's when you know that you succeeded in realizing your vision.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

31 Spooky Things I Love

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It doesn't come with the baggage that the emotional family ones or religious ones come with. It has candy, costumes, and creepy stuff. Three of my favorite things. So, in celebration, here are thirty one things (one for each day of October) that please my ghoulish little heart. It'll be a media heavy list, because, well, I like media. In no particular order.

#1:  Wednesday Addams. In all her iterations. I *loved* the black and white television series. I loved Cristina Ricci's version of her in the movies. And I love Adult Wednesday Addams on YouTube. Wednesday Addams might be my spirit animal.

#2: Vincent Price. House of Wax and House on Haunted Hill have been two of my favorites (Hmmm, what is about houses and Vincent?). Then, later when he did the voice for the Thriller video when I was a teenager…and his part in Edward Scissorhands. Vincent Price is the voice and face of that cheesy short of scary that is the fun kind.

#3 Living Dead dolls. My older daughter collected these when she was little and I loved the combination of chubby little girl cuteness with ghoulishness. Plus dolls are inherently creepy. Just ask Karen Black.

#4 The Walking Dead television series. I'm in season 6 right now. I know, I'm behind. The series makes good use of zombies to scare me, but it also knows that sometimes the real monsters are the other humans. Sometimes, I get so tense, I have to press pause and walk around before I can finish watching. That's some good TV.

#5 Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I re-watch at least part of this series every year. I'm back in Season One this year, and enjoying watching the dynamics of the Scoobies develop and, of course, the monsters. Cordelia is more interesting than I remembered.

#6: The Creature from the Black Lagoon has been a favorite monster movie of mine as long as I can remember. I probably watched in on late night television with my mother when I was a child. The parts filmed underwater always made me sympathize with the creature.

#7: Graveyards. Seriously, especially old ones. I haven't yet gotten to take a ghost tour in one, but it's on my list. Walking through a historic graveyard always give me a shiver and my imagination loves to make up stories there. It's an inspiring place.

#8: The Thing. 1982 version. Kurt Russell and those crazy slimy special effects. Fast moving
creatures on the floor that make me want to pull my feet up into the sofa, just in case there's one beneath it.

#9: Fog. Especially at twilight. Even better if there are unexpected headlights shining through it.

#10: Sweeney Todd. Not so much the recent movie. I mean, it was okay, but it left some of my favorite bits out, and Helena Bonham Carter is no Angela Lansbury, who sang the part on the CD I fell in love with in college. Talk about a tale of dark vengeance. "There's no place like London." Indeed.

#11: Zombieland. Because I like horror mixed with humor. Runner-up: Shaun of the Dead. Ask me again in an hour and I might flip flop those. Or pick An American Werewolf in London instead. All of them are really well done and play on a variety of emotions as you watch.

#12: Spiders. They fascinate me, and completely wig me out. At the same time.

#13: The Bad Seed. Creepy children always get to me. The sweet face cover cold evil gives me a shiver every time.

#14: When you wake up in the middle of the night and your daughter is standing next to the bed, looming over you half asleep herself, face glowing in lamplight. Yeah. Real children are creepy, too.

#15: Betrayal at House on the Hill. It's a board game. A really great one, where the players work cooperatively to try to survive the horrors a haunted house throws at you. There are still a lot of scenarios we haven't tried.

#16: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978.  Good Lord, but this one creeps me out. The half-formed body of Jeff Goldblum in the bathhouse scene. Leonard Nimoy's gaslighting the people who feel like their husbands and wives have become someone else…and I'm pretty sure that was when he was still human.

#17: Jaws. I know this one isn't exactly a horror movie, in the traditional sense. But it sure scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kiddo. I didn't even want to take a bath by myself just in case of sharks.

#18: Poltergeist. This one doesn't hold up that well. I saw it again recently…and it didn't get under my skin the same way. But when I was a kid, I stayed up all night talking it through with my mother because I was so disturbed.

#19: Hitchhiker ghost stories. You know, the one where a guy picks up a girl and lends her his jacket, then finds it draped over a tombstone? I LOVE that one. In all its iterations.

#21: Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. Possibly the first gothic novel I ever read. And definitely feeding into my interest in scary children. Plus ghosts. And garden globes.

#22: The Cask of Amontillado or maybe The Tell-Tale Heart. Oooh. Or The House of Usher. The Masque of the Red Death. The Pit and the Pendulum. Dang, it's hard to pick. Edgar Allan Poe really knew the darkness.

#23: Gloom, the cardgame. You get a family--a weird one, like of circus freaks or misfits or misanthropes--and you're trying to kill them off by giving them the worst life possible. There's a lot of humor in the cards, and the fun part, IMHO is telling the story of Poor Angel, the Starry-Eyed Serial Killer who was pursued by poodles, written out of the will, and was driven to drink before she was finally devoured by weasels.

#24: Frankenstein. The original book, many of the movie versions, many of the times the story was retold as an episode of a TV show. I find mad scientists fascinating and compelling, so there's Victor, but Mary wrote such a sympathetic creature as well. It's a story that pulls at the heart from so many angles, and horrifies without showing much.

#25: Speaking of mad scientists: The Fly. The 1986 version. Hmmm . . .that puts Jeff on this list twice. But yeah, wonderful for the body horror of it. (Shudder)

#26: Jack-o-Lanterns. Thanks to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and just some very talented pumpkin carvers, I've seen a lot of good ones. They both make me smile and creep me out a bit.

#27: Night noises in an unfamiliar house, especially an old one. They're harder to explain away. Rational's got nothing to do with it.

#28: Stephen King and Joe Hill. I know! Two of them in one family. And they've both creeped me out muchly with their words. The Shining. Heart-Shaped Box. Pet Sematary. Locke and Key. When I was in middle school, I made the mistake of reading something of King's when I was alone at home. I had to sit at the top of the stairs with my back against the wall while I finished just in case something found me. I think it was Salem's Lot.

#29: Halloween lights. I'm especially fond of the purple and green ones. They're pretty, but also just a bit creepy.

#30: Dead flowers. They're just sad, all brown and crispy.

#31: The Univinted. A ghost story favorite. Or The Others. Or The Innocents. A Tale of Two Sisters. Oh heck, I can't pick. GHOSTS!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why I LIke the Dark

I was talking with someone recently. A colleague. A sunny sort of woman dressed in draping sparkly things. She's kind and intelligent and I like her quite a bit, but you wouldn't have to look further than our wardrobes to see that we don't have much in common. 

We were talking about books, as us reading-folk are likely to do. I'm a pretty eclectic reader, and I'll give almost any kind of book a shot, but Sparkle and I couldn't find a single title in common in our recently reads or TBR lists. 

You see, I like the dark. 

In real life, I try to stay in the sun, in the sense that I'm looking for the up-side, the silver lining, the half-full glass. 

But when I read, watch television or movies, write, draw, play video games, or even listen to music, I skew dark. I'm drawn to pessimistic characters, wounded birds with vengeful hearts. I'm not really interested in the happy, glossy stuff and I distrust completely happy endings. They feel false to me. 

Maybe it's like Papa Tolstoy said:

Maybe in spite of my can-do attitude and belief that hard work can get you out of almost anything, my deepest darkest heart takes, well, a darker view. Am I a cynic at the core? 

I'm not sure. I mean, I am a skeptic. But like Mulder, I want to believe. I don't think it's just morbid fascination. It's not that I like pain and suffering, even on the page. It's more like I value the coming out on the other side. The hard won truths. If it comes too easily, I doubt the value. 

I'd like to think it comes from personal high standards. I'm the type of person who pushes herself--looking for the crucible that transforms me into the best version of me. I want to be challenged, to prove myself. 

And I'm looking for stories that do that, too: test the limits of the heart, the body, the mind. Confrontation reveals the best of us (and sometimes the worst). The dark night of the soul of the hero's journey. 

Maybe that's it. I explore the darkness, the better to live in the light.