Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Orville Might Be the Best Star Trek Yet

I recently finished watching the second season of The Orville. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's a Star Trek-esque space-based episodic story with some longer arcs in which the crew of a starship encounter adventures as they explore the universe.

Similar to Star Trek in all its iterations, the crew are part of a an interstellar alliance with military rankings and rules. Their mission is both political and scientific. It's a show that gets really mixed reviews. Even people who love it don't seem to love it without criticism. I think I'm the same: I like it, but I can't quite love it.

While I have enjoyed several Star Trek series in my life (the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, the old movies, the newer movies), I've never considered myself a deep fan. Watching Orville helped me realize that this is because I don't connect strongly with most of the characters.

They tend to be static--arriving on the scene fully realized and ending the series no significant changes to the core of who they are. The tension on your average Star Trek show is all external.

That's one way The Orville is different. Interpersonal drama is often as important or more important than external conflict in any given episode.  Throughout seasons one and two, we've watched a once-married captain and first officer figure out the parameters of their new relationship. We've watched a married couple become parents and discover deep-seated philosophical differences and cultural dissonances. We've watched several other characters foray into romance with varying results.

Fans might argue that these sorts of character arcs are seen on Star Trek as well, but for me, any such storytelling is solidly in the back seat in those shows. I like this more character-driven exploration of similar themes. These characters grow and change within the series more than I've ever seen on a Star Trek show. For me, that's the major selling point of The Orville: it's Star Trek, with more fully realized people in the roles.

I also enjoy the "ordinary Joe" feel of the characters. Among the people in my life, I can find people who are similar to Lt. Gordon Molloy, pilot and longtime friend of Captain Ed Mercer or Dr. Claire Finn, the ship's doctor who is also a single mother.

Competent and effective, but quirky, too. That's very different than giant icons like Jean-Luc Picard, who while wonderful, was too much a paragon to make stupid choices in love or leadership.

From the early days watching reruns of the original series with my mother, I've always loved the allegorical storytelling bent of Star Trek--exploring human issues with non-human characters offers contrast and comparison that an all-human cast has to work harder to achieve.

The Orville does this, too. There's emotion vs. logic in Isaac, the Kaylon emissary and science officer. There's exploration of the line between cultural respect and individual rights in the gender issues of Moclan, home world of Bortus, the second officer.

The discussion might be a little more subtle than it was when the black and white faced people of Ariannus refused to see each other's values (star bellied sneeches, anyone?), but the tactic is the same. And it's still a good one.

An aspect of The Orville I'm less fond of is the mixing of tones. Traditionally, Star Trek has had lighter toned and heavier toned episodes, but a single episode of The Orville may offer comedy and drama side by side, an effect I sometimes find jarring.

Individual episodes also suffer from inconsistencies and writer convenience sometimes (example: the fabulous warrior women who escaped Moclan to live life on their own terms and were skilled enough to do this suddenly lose all fighting and observation skills and need to be rescued by the crew of The Orville when the attack they've always anticipated finally comes).

All in all, The Orville captures much of what I love about Star Trek while shedding the baggage I didn't love as much. It's a love letter to the place the Star Trek universe holds in our hearts while also being its own creation. Worth watching.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Going Home

Some of the new I liked: a bit of whimsy down an alleyway
As I write this, I'm just returned from a trip to visit my parents who still live in my childhood home of Bellevue, Kentucky, located four blocks from Ohio. It's a small town still, but with easy access to the big city. We used to walk to Reds games and other downtown events rather than pay for parking. In fact, lots of what people think of as "Cincinnati" places are actually not in Ohio, but in Kentucky (like the airport and the Ohio River for starters).

I've been trailing the nostalgia fairy. I imagine her as a mermaid, beautiful on top and a stinky old salmon on the bottom, who will delight you with a beautiful memory one moment, then turn around and swat you in the face with the smelly fish tail of the ugly side of change.

Fairfield Mrkt where Mom used to bank.
Like a lot of small towns, Bellevue has seen a lot of change in recent years, some for the good, and some that make my stomach churn.

Bellevue's avenue seems to be flourishing with independent restaurants and small businesses and that makes me happy. I like seeing Fessler's hoagies and pizza (I knew it as Pasquales, but the food is the same as always) and Schneider's Sweet Shop still serving the delights they've served my whole life from the same locations and that any changes have been expansions and improvements.

It's kind of fun that the storefront that used to house my childhood used bookstore is now a Thai restaurant, the first apartment we lived in is now a pretzel restaurant, and my mom and dad's old bank is now a chi-chi dining place (chi-chi here is defined as too "fancy" to take my blue collar Dad to), still with the bank vault (now a wine cellar). I spent my week's visit eating lunch in childhood haunts that weren't restaurants then.

We've got art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, craft shops, and funky gift shops in all the old buildings along the avenue and most seem to be doing strong business. That's good to see. Good for the life of a town.

At the same time, swaths of old houses along the riverfront are simply gone, wiped off the map and replaced by tall, expensive, and horrendously ugly condos and apartments that are completely out of character with the look of the town. More are being built as we speak, and they look even uglier and suck up the skyline so us plebeians who have always lived here can no longer see the river. My dad's childhood home was nothing special, but it's just completely gone now, along with all the neighboring houses that used to offer something lower rent for those who needed it.

With them we got a bunch of chain restaurants and a lot more traffic and parking problems.

I don't like rich people generally (in my admittedly limited experience with wealth, rich people do not become rich by being kind, generous, or noble) and I don't really want them to move to Bellevue…but I do want the town to continue to exist and be a safe place for my parents and old friends to live. "And so it goes." Here's hoping Bellevue can keep the heart of what it has always been while staying afloat in the 21st century.

Bellevue houses: lots of brick, with charming details. From the tiny to the giant. I used to dream about owning that top one when I was a kid. 

The first apartment I lived in with Mom and Dad, now a pretzel sandwich place.


Cincy views from around Bellevue


My childhood movie theater.

Van Voast bridge still scares the heck out of me. Worse when a train is running beneath.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

IWSG: Am I my Characters?


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

This month's wonderful co-hosts are Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

Be sure to check out their blogs (and others on this great blog hop) when you're finished here! This month's (optional) question: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?
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I try not to just write characters that are analogues for myself--I'm rather dull, really: reliable, steady, not-that-dramatic. If I took "write what you know" to mean "write characters just like you" no one would want to read my work. Heck, *I* wouldn't even want to read my work.

I like my real life nice and boring and regular, but not my fiction, thanks. How many quiet and reliable schoolteachers who love the man they are married to and do what they say they're going to do on time would you read about?

Yeah, me either.

But I do find that fiction is accidentally confessional from time to time, revealing biases, prejudices, and preferences that I may not even really be aware I have until after I see them reflected in a character. Things that bother me in real life may end up bothering one of my characters, too. It can be a good way to take myself down a peg, too--my favorite person to poke fun at is myself.

Patricia, of the Menopausal Superhero series, is impatient with newbs. She's got her own way of doing things and doesn't like to be slowed down by having to explain herself to others.

There's a bit of me in there, always tempted to look away when they're looking for volunteers, hoping that maybe I can just do the work and not have to help someone else do it at the same time. Impatient with youth and inexperience when it slows me down.

(This is mostly in my teaching life; in my writing life: mentoring and being mentored has been a lot more natural, organic, and useful. The uselessness of most teacher training and evaluation programs could be a whole ranty blog post by itself).

Of course, Patricia isn't nearly as polite as me.

From Going Through the Change, the first in the series:

"Patricia rubbed at her forehead as if she could reach the headache forming somewhere deep behind her right eye. She had worked for this man for how long now, twenty years? A good ten years before that for his predecessor. He knew damn well she preferred to work alone and absolutely detested any kind of group project or partnership. Yet, this was the third time he had assigned her an intern to mentor. Always women, too. Or really, girls. Skinny little milksops with no real backbone. he actually used the word nurturing, like she was a freaking wet nurse. Didn't he remember that she had sent the last one home in tears?"

I also remember that when I got to the end of the first book I ever finished (unpublished, women's issues fiction: His Other Mother), I was surprised to discover that I'd written something very much like a gender-switched relationship dynamic from my first marriage. Oops. I didn't know I was doing it at the time.

Of course, there are small things, like a character who likes a food you like, or prefers the same kind
of pillow, or drives a similar car. Those slip in on me all the time because I need a small detail to add some life to a moment and I understand my own preferences from the inside, so they're easy to use.

But, I don't usually intentionally give my characters my own characteristics. I'm not using my fiction as disguised memoir. My imaginary friends are much more interesting than I am--and I like it that way!


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Sometimes I feel I've got to run away: Writer's Retreat!



I love my family and my teaching life, but sometimes they feel like they're going to squash me. At the worst of times, it's like people are grabbing chunks of me and carting them off, and at the end of the day, all that remains is a pile of vibrating nerves that no one else wanted.

All my life, writing has been where I run away to when there's too much. It's solitary, but creative and productive: at the end of it, I've created something. It's personal and self-expressive even when it's fiction. It satisfies something deep within me that can't be soothed by any other means. It's why my daily writing time matters so very much. Even when my writing feels stymied, it's still a selfish little moment that is only about what I want to create. It really is a mental health release valve for me, even more than walking (and walking helps me immensely, too).

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get run away from my regular life for three days for a writer's retreat. I spent those days in a lovely mountain house with six other writers, writing, talking, walking, reading. I didn't make a meal, wash a dish, wash anything, or give ANY of my time to something that wasn't about my writing life.


I'm discovering that short bursts of focused time like this are essential to my writing life. I can't always take a trip and surround myself with like-minded folks, but at least during summer vacation, I'm fortunate that I can arrange a few days during which I am only a writer, during which I can bring the full force of my considerable concentration to my current creation and push the rest aside, just for a little while.

I send the youngest to camp or to visit Grandma. I tell my family that I'm off the grid. I cash in all those gift cards I received for teacher appreciation day on take out meals. I prep ahead with snacks and tea so I don't have to go anywhere. I don't answer the phone.

I don't think I'd fare well if this was my life all the time. I am a writer, but I'm also a teacher, a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister, and various other kinds of human and even though I run towards introverted, I'm not willing to give up all my other loves JUST for writing. Even Emily Dickinson had people visit and wrote letters, after all. I do need and want people. I'm not really a hermit, even though the idea is tempting sometimes.

But as a respite, it's wonderful to run away from everything else for a little while and give myself over completely to my life of words. May you all find a respite like this when you need it, an oasis that lets you refill your well and gives you the wherewithal you need for harder times.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Summer Writing


Summer is here! As I write this, I've been on summer vacation for (checks watch--remembers I don't have one and checks phone) 1.5 days!

As a teacher-writer-mother, I look forward to summertime all year for the control over my schedule and ability to focus more on my writing life instead of shoehorning it in around school demands. And I've made it! I'm a full time writer, for almost two months in a row.

As a 21st century woman though, I always want more out of my time than I can actually get, so here are my tips for managing a mother-writer summer schedule.

For context, my kids are currently 12 and 19, with the 19 year old living forty-five minutes away from home, near enough that I can see her often, and be there to help her when needed, but not part of my daily dinner plan.

1. Chunk your time: I'd love to have all day every day of summer for my writing life, but that's not realistic given the parameters of my life, so I just snag *part* of each day for writing.

I tend to think of my day in three chunks: morning, afternoon, evening. Because my tween will sleep as late as I let her, it generally goes: morning for me, afternoon for house/daughters, evening for family. This keeps things from bleeding into my writing time too much, but still leaves me pretty flexible during each chunk of day.



I get up when my husband gets up for work even though I could probably get away with sleeping later. I'm a total wimp about the heat, so I get outside for my exercise first: a walk or a run with my dog immediately before the summer sun is fully awake and trying to bake us alive. This has the added benefit of waking up my brain in a pleasant environment.

Then, I start all the appliances, so clean dishes and laundry (and sometimes even lunch: go rice cooker and instant pot!) happen while I'm not looking, and it's breakfast and writing time. I try to stop at lunch time.

Afternoons are for running errands and making sure the tween has some fun and doesn't turn into a total lump of lazy. Often I can write during this time as well, jotting down thoughts in the notes app on my phone and handling the social media commitment of a writing life during the waiting moments. If there's a playdate or mom couch time and my interaction level is lower, I steal that for writing, too.

Evenings are for managing home life aspects that require all of us (after the husband gets home from work) and for enjoying time together: games, movies, outings, etc. Sometimes I sneak extra writing time during this time, if there's dad-daughter time going on.


2. Make arrangements for a few ONLY writing days:

For me, that means sending the youngest away (camp, visiting Grandma, overnights at someone else's house, etc.) or sending me away (writing retreat!). I can usually only manage about two weeks of full time writing life across a summer, but they are heaven on earth when they come.

It requires being strict about protecting that time. If the youngest is at camp, I AM NOT filling that time up with errands, even pleasant ones like lunch with my sister. I grab those hours with both hands and hold on tight, refusing to let anything shy of an actual emergency wrest them from my grip.

I also have to be strict with myself about using the time well when I get it. I set priority lists of what to write in what order and am careful not to let myself fritter the time away on social media or writing the wrong things.

My rules for prioritization are: passion level, publication expectations, promises made, and watching out for burnout. Just like every other part of my life, choosing how to spend my writing time is a balancing act, too.

3. Planning ahead helps.

Generally, we plan and shop on Sunday for the entire upcoming week, making note of al the "extra" (not in the usual schedule) things we need/want to do, and making meal plans.

This really helps, because I don't have to spend time on Monday-Friday deciding on meals or shopping them. Those decisions have already been made; all I have to do is follow the plan. That frees up brain space for more fun things like deciding why my male lead's secret twin was a secret.

I plan ahead for my writing time as well, figuring out which day will be spent writing a blog post, which a short story, which focused on the current novel, which on promotion, and so on. I can't do all those things every day, and it helps me to compartmentalize them, promising each task its spotlight moment in turn.

After all this time, I'm good at figuring out what kind of writing I'll be able to do given the constraints of a day: how much time a row I can get, likelihood of interruption, need to devote extra time to other parts of life, etc.

So, there are my ideas for managing a writing life among the other demands I've taken on. How about you, kind readers? Any tips that work for you? How do you protect and arrange time for your creative endeavors?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Wording Wednesday: Always

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too. You can see what I wrote for the first five prompts herehereherehere and here. This one is the last in the current series, but you can participate at any time, and she'll be back with more prompts soon. It was interesting how many of these evoked a story of love or romance from me, my favorite kind of Beginning.

Today's picture-prompt is by Agnes Csiszar Russo.  You can see the story it inspired for me below the art.

Always 

Formal events usually made me pray I'd come down with something contagious and blotchy so my mother wouldn't make me go. So many people forced to be polite while uncomfortably dressed and gathered in a room inevitably either too hot or too cold. The roiling emotions churning through a crowd like that were overwhelming. Weddings were the worst, with matchmaking on the mind of every family with an unmarried child.

But this was Ananya's wedding. I couldn't miss it, even if I did actually have something contagious and blotchy. It might be the last time I'd get to see her. Her husband was a very successful businessman. That meant they would go wherever his business demanded, even if that took my best friend to the other side of the planet and beyond my reach.

We'd had our weepy goodbyes already, and I'd kept my feelings of abandonment and loneliness to myself. I wouldn't taint her happiness with selfish concerns. She deserved a life of laughter and gaiety and I wouldn't be the mopey friend who brought her down at her own celebration.

When the day's festivities began to wind down, I slipped out the back of the pavilion, hoping to make it back to my own room before the crush of the departing crowd. Outside, the night spread almost moonless, and the stars shown like jewels in the sky, all the brighter against the darkness. Though I could still hear the thrum of music behind me, the comparative quiet was a relief and I released a sigh that threatened to become a sob.

"A beautiful night, isn't it?"

I quickly wiped the wetness from my cheeks and turned to face the man who addressed me. Arjun stepped out from under the trees, his gold brocaded coat catching the rays of the streetlights and making him glow. Not that he needed lighting to glow. He had long been regarded as the most handsome man in our social set, but like me he was quiet and preferred to remain in the background. Many a mother lamented that he didn't seem to have any interest in taking a wife.

When he reached for my hand, I let him take it and press it to his lips. I stifled a laugh at the formality of the gesture. It seemed so strange from a man I'd known since we were small children. A suppressed smile made his own eyes turn down and I knew he was teasing me, so I swept into an elaborate curtsy, spreading my blue and green skirts around me like sea foam.

"So, our Ananya is leaving us."

The smile fell from my face and my barely contained tears threatened to break their dam. I took a deep breath and let it out shakily. "Yes. They're going to New Zealand for their honeymoon, and then to France. Sai has offices everywhere."

He nodded. "Everywhere but here."

I dipped my head. His finger stroked my cheek and lifted my face. "It will be all right, Diya. You won't be alone. You will always have me."

My eyes widened. What did he mean? I turned to ask him, but he had already melted away into the darkness under the trees. I touched my cheek where his fingers had brushed it, and turned to find the path to my room. My step was lighter now, and my heart felt full.

Always? did he really mean that? I had to admit, part of me hoped he did.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

IWSG: Choosing Favorites


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

This month's wonderful co-hosts are Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte

Be sure to check out their blogs (and others on this great blog hop) when you're finished here! This month's (optional) question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?
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I've written the most superhero, so you might think it's my favorite, and I do love my superpower set.

But the truth is that what I really love writing is something I haven't written before. 

That's why I've spent the past year writing young adult dystopian romance (three things I've never done all in one project!) and why my next project is a Gothic romance.

It's why my back burner project list of partially complete manuscripts includes a paranormal middle grades, a historical fiction trilogy, and a work of women's issues fiction.

My short story catalogue is even more diverse, from superhero, to Golden Age exploratory science fiction, to daylight ghost stories, to Southern Gothic, to mad science, to horror (upcoming release!).

Pretty much, my motto is: "variety is the spice of a writing life."

I really love exploring something new and finding my own take on it. Both as a reader and a writer, I'm looking for something I haven't seen before, or at least a new twist or angle on something I feel like I already know. For me, it's a way to keep my enthusiasm high. As soon as I feel like I've mastered a challenge, it's time to take on a new one. The spice must flow!


How about the rest of you out there? Are you devotee of any particular genre or more of an omni-reader/writer? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wording Wednesday: First Snow

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too. You can see what I wrote for the first four prompts hereherehere, and here.


Today's picture-prompt is "December" by Zoe Persico and can be found on her website at http://www.zoepersico.com/Illustrations You can see the story it inspired for me below the art.

FIRST SNOW

Jacqui had never lived in a place with snow before. Sure, Florida had the beach, but snow? That was something magical, something she'd only ever seen on television. 

For hours last night she hadn't been able to sleep, getting up every few minutes to press her nose against the glass and peer into the darkness, hoping to see the first flakes falling from the sky.  She'd finally fallen asleep and had wakened to frosted windows and a hillside gleaming white under the late morning sun. It looked like the entire area had been doused with marshmallow fluff.

Her older brother and sister tried to pretend it was no big deal, but she noticed that they came downstairs much faster than usual, already wearing long pants and sweaters. Their parents had let them sleep in after school had been called off. When their mother had opened the garage to reveal the surprise gift she had purchased for them--three  brand new sleds--Jacqui had almost knocked her over with the exuberance of her hug. 

The first trip down the hill had been dizzying. Her round plastic sled had spun in circles until she tumbled out near the bottom of the hill and rolled on the ground. She was laughing when her brother caught up to her, though and the two of them raced back up the hill to try again. No matter of ice down her boots or back could dampen her enthusiasm for skimming across the surface of the thick frozen landscape. 

Her mother finally made her come in and warm up for a bit, but Jacqui knelt facing the biggest window, cocoa steaming the glass so she had to wipe it clean with her elbow. Her mom sat next to her and gave her a hug. "Beautiful, huh?" 

"Wonderful." Jacqui dipped her tongue into the whipped cream her mother had topped the cocoa with, then took a noisy slurp. "How long will it last?"

"Oh honey, this is Colorado. We'll have this all winter long." 

Joy coursed through Jacqui like an electrical currant. "Really?"

"Really."

Mom had promised that their new life would be a fresh start. Now Jacqui was starting to think it might be magical, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wording Wednesday--Three Martinis

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too. You can see what I wrote for the first three prompts herehere, and here.

This week's picture prompt comes from artist Tracy Dinnison whose work can be found here. The story it inspired for me can be found below the picture:
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Three Martinis

The bartender raised his elbow as he poured to hide the smirk on his face as another would-be Don Juan sidled up to the bar to hit on Eloise. Not that he didn't understand why they tried. She was stunning, especially when she wore blue, and she was clad in a jewel tone number tonight that made her skin glow like polished sea glass in sunlight.

She'd been waiting for an hour and the man in the soft suede vest was the third Lothario to try and charm her tonight. He obviously wasn't used to being ignored. He'd gone from suave to petulant in the space of one lit cigarette, which she accepted without a word or a smile.

The bartender didn't seem too worried. Eloise was hard to phase, and none of these men were drunk enough to start a public scene in one of the nicest hotels in the city, no matter how much their egos hurt. It was unlikely he'd have to intervene.

Another hour went by before Agnes arrived. She was a vision, too, in her own way, swathed in a sherbet-colored ensemble that clung in all the right places. Unfortunately, her husband Reginald clung to her as well, fingers firmly clasped around her elbow. She hadn't been able to ditch him.

Eloise turned to the bar then, and picked up the first of the three martinis sitting there, one purchased by each would-be lover who had failed to win her over. She knocked it back, then pulled the olive off the stick with her teeth. It should have been sexy, but the ferocity was nearer to threatening.

She cozied up to the second glass and ran her ungloved finger around the rim, staring daggers at Reginald and Agnes who had settled at the opposite end of the bar. The bartender began to look nervous, brandishing the shaker like he might need to use it as a weapon. Eloise ate the olives and then swallowed the drink, leaving the stick in her teeth.

She had reached for the third martini--the one that would lead to dangerous choices--when I intervened. I walked up and leaned against the bar, dropping my purse between her and the third martini. "God, what a night, huh?" I gestured at the room as if the plaid carpeting and green walls were somehow responsible for all that ailed the world.

She looked at me, startled, then leaned to reach around my purse for the glass. I grabbed her wrist, stroking the velvety skin over her pulse point with my thumb. It was a bold move, but she liked boldness. "You're too good for her anyway."

She pulled her hand away and cradled it against her chest in the other hand, which still wore a gray leather glove. A small smile lifted the corners of her gorgeous mouth still perfect in plum lipstick I longed to taste.

I took the third martini, swirling it briefly in the glass before taking a sip. Her eyes widened. I had her attention now. I pulled out the swizzle stick with my tongue, maneuvering the olive into my mouth. It had taken me hours to master that trick, but it was worth it to watch the color rise in her cheeks. I set the unfinished drink on the bar and pulled my purse toward me. "It's a lovely night for a walk," I said.

I took a few steps before I looked back over my shoulder. She was standing beside her chair, purse in hand, one glove dropped from her lap onto the floor. I went back and picked it up, offering it to her. "You dropped something."

She pulled the cloth from between my fingers slowly. "Indeed," she said, her voice as dark as her skin was bright. "And you picked it up."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wording Wednesday: Left Turn at Albuquerque

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too. You can see what I wrote for the first two prompts here and here.

This week's picture prompt comes from artist Erinn Komschlies whose work can be found here. The story it inspired for me can be found below the picture:

Left Turn at Albuquerque

Misting rain blew against her cheek and Genevieve wiped her glasses on her sweater. Without the aid of her lenses, she couldn't make out much detail--the world became smears of color and abstract shapes. She pocketed the glasses for now. It was prettier this way, and she didn't need to be able to read right now.

She clutched her small red suitcase in her hand, resisting the urge to spin in circles like a happy child. Excitement about her impending journey bubbled inside her like champagne bubbles and left her feeling as intoxicated as if she really had been drinking. She'd never done anything like this before and it felt wonderful.

The light shining from the streetlights made rainbows in the water pooling on the platform. Genevieve shuffled one foot in the puddle she stood in, flinging a light arc of droplets out into the air in front of her. "Hey!" someone yelled.

"Oh, sorry!" Genevieve fumbled her glasses back out of her pocket and shoved them on quickly. In the shadows of the opposite wall of the waiting area she saw a woman brushing at her skirt and glaring at her. "Sorry," Genevieve said again. "I didn't see you."

The woman frowned down at her skirt, but her face softened when she looked up at Genevieve. "Bit fidgety, aren't you?"

"Guilty as charged."

"What's got you so nervous?"

"Oh, I'm not nervous so much as excited."

"About going to Wichita?"

The doubt that clouded the woman's voice threatened to make Genevieve break into giggles. She cleared her throat to suppress the urge. "I'm going all the way to Albuquerque."

The woman laughed. "Albuquerque?"

"They have a balloon festival."

The woman shielded her eyes and looked out at the train platform, awash in a new spray of rain that beat against the side of the train with a dramatic thump. "I hope the weather is better there."

Genevieve lifted her face into the spray, imagining how she might miss the rain when the desert wind whipped against her cheeks. She bounced a little on her toes, heels smacking against the wet ground with a sound like applause. The whistle blew and a shiver of anticipation went down her back. She grinned at the woman. "Oh, I'll be fine. You can't rain on my parade."

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Favorite Fierce Fictional Mothers

For me, there is a fierceness to motherhood, a mama-bear willingness to fight. As soon as I gave myself over to being someone's mom, this determination and protectiveness bubbled up in me out of nowhere. I had no idea it was there.

I've been lucky. I haven't had any cinematically intense battles to fight for my children. They've been the more ordinary battles with educational systems, friendship, love lives, disappointments, etc. We're fortunate.

But still, that fierceness is there, just under my breast bone, burning like a hot coal.

That's probably why so many of my favorite fictional mothers literally fight for their children:

1. Ellen Ripley, Aliens.

Ripley didn't get to raise her own daughter.

When she left on her mission for Alien (the first film), she promised her girl she'd be back for her birthday, but after an accidental 57 year cryo-sleep, she found she'd missed not only that birthday, but all the rest of them.

Her daughter was dead.

But mothers are made under a variety of circumstances and many mother someone they didn't birth.

The lengths she goes to in order to rescue Newt show the depth and intensity of that love. In the end it's mother vs. mother with Ripley fighting the Queen Alien.

2. Helen Parr (Elastigirl), The Incredibles.

It's not easy when life takes a left turn, depriving you of work you were passionate about and forcing
you to find your happiness in a smaller life. But Helen Parr knew that her family's safety and well being mattered as much as her personal satisfaction. She threw herself into making the new life work.

And, then, when the call to action came, when her children were in danger, she didn't hesitate to bring every skill she had into play.

And when it came to it, she knew when it time to let her children grow up a little and come into their own:

"Remember the bad guys on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won't exercise restraint because your children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance." 

You might think Elastigirl would be all about flexibility, but in the end, she's about balance: family, career, personal satisfaction, happiness in her marriage. She working to have it all, and if anyone can do it, she can.

3. Sarah Connor, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

What do you do when you learn that your child is the one hope for the planet, the future leader of the Resistance?

You become the kind of mother he's going to need.

Yeah, Sarah might have started out as a damsel in distress, but she didn't sit around waiting to be rescued for long.

No. She went out and got an education, and we're not talking about a liberal arts degree from a community college.

She learned self defense, security, weapons, and guerilla warfare. She kept her son and herself off the grid and out of the hands of their enemies. And when that didn't seem like enough, she went on the offensive (which unfortunately, landed her in an asylum).

Everything was always about her son, but the real hero of this series is his mother.

4. Briar Wilkes, from Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

In an alternate history steampunk story, Briar Wilkes is a pariah. She fell in love with the wrong man and there are those who blame her alongside him for the release of blight gasses that left the Pacific Northwest a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But she tried to protect her son from all that. She never talked about the past, never let him know what kind of a man his father was, wanting to save him the pain and suffering. Tried to let him have as normal a life as was possible.

It backfired, as secrets are wont to do, and young Ezekial set out in search of his father, into a dangerous world full of people who would use him or kill him.

Briar didn't sit on her hands, fretting at home or seeking a hero to save them. She became the hero she needed: she put on her goggles and breathing mask and set out into the poisoned world to save her son, facing her inner demons and some outer ones along the way.

5. Molly Weasley, of the Harry Potter series of movies and books.

Not every mother wears her fierceness on her sleeve. Some might seem to be a homemade cookies and sympathetic ear sort of woman, taking a supporting role in her children's lives. But, threaten her babies? You'll see a whole new side of Molly Weasley, one that looks a lot like Ellen Ripley:


6. Alana of the Saga series of graphic novels by Fiona Staples and Brian Vaughan.

Alana is complicated. She makes rash, impulsive decisions. She acts before she thinks.

She joined the military to escape her abusive situation, but wasn't willing to take orders thoughtlessly.

Then, she fell in love with an enemy soldier, someone outside her species, and ran away with him even thought it was likely to get them both killed.

Not the best circumstances for motherhood.

I love Alana because of her complexity. She has conflicting motives and emotions and makes bad choices, but her love for her child is a constant, something she'll undergo tremendous trials to protect and rescue.

So, there's my Mother's Day list of fierce mother characters I love. Who's on your list? Or are you a fan of another type of fictional mother? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wording Wednesday Prompt: Dream Come True

Last week, I decided to start participating in a weekly writing prompt group. I enjoy playing with writing prompts to reconnect with the lighter side of a writing life (where I write things just because it's fun).

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too.

This week's picture prompt comes from artist Vladimir Volegov and is titled "Sunny Breakfast."



Here's my take:
________________________________________________________

Genevieve had long fantasized about a moment like this one, surrounded by luxury with time on her hands. She'd had often imagined what it would be like, and, for once, the difference between her imagined version and real life did not disappoint. She didn't care what society had to say about how she'd arrived in this seat. It was hers now.

She leaned into her hand and let her gaze wander the landscape outside her sunlit window, the orchestrated greenery and placid lake glistening with the first brightening of the sky. She had always loved the gardens and walkways of the house, but looking out at all the finery and realizing it was her own made it shine all the brighter in her eyes.

Steam drifted from her cup, warming her forearm. The hand resting against her cheek was already softening. The callouses that had thickened on her palms from years of laundress work were still rough, but there was a spongy feeling to them,  less like pumice stones and more like flesh was meant to feel. They'd never be smooth and unlined like a real lady's, but they were softer than she could ever remember them being after a few weeks away from lye, bleach, and hot water.

She'd begun her life "in service" when she'd been barely ten. Her mother had gone straight from the orphanage into the kitchen herself, and since she had refused to reveal who had gotten the child on her no one knew who to call to take care of little Genevieve when her mother was killed by a kitchen fire.

The Old Master felt sorry for her, so had kept her alongside Alexander and Abigail,  his own children, taught by the same governesses until she was deemed old enough to work.

"Old enough" came abruptly one Sunday afternoon, after the lady of the house caught Alexander and Genevieve playing "wedding" in the garden. Genevieve didn't understand what the problem was then, but smiled to herself now, realizing that Alexander's mother's fears about what kind of "association" her son might make had proven all too real.

So, Genevieve who had been yanked from the servants quarters to the nursery, was flung back down the back stairs into the resentful arms of the other servants and into a long, pocketed apron over an itchy black dress.

Nothing like the silken blouse she now wore, purchased in Paris along with all her other clothes, as part of her honeymoon.

A slight squeak alerted Genevieve to the opening of the door into the morning room. Alexander came in, fumbling with the cuffs of his shirt. Genevieve rang the silver bell on her tray and hurried to her husband's side, deftly fitting his shirt cuffs into his jacket. He was hopeless with buttons and ties. Smoothing his lapels with her softened hands, she smiled up at him and leaned up on her toes to give him a kiss just where his ear met his cheek.

Alexander colored, pleased and embarrassed. He took her hand and walked with her to the window, both of them standing and watching the sun finish its climb into the heavens and politely ignoring the  busy sounds of the breakfast being laid behind them. Genevieve leaned her cheek against her husband and he curled his arm across her shoulders. "Happy, darling?" he asked.

"Oh yes," she whispered. "It's a dream come true."


Monday, May 6, 2019

A to Z Blogging Reflection

Another A to Z Blogging Challenge has gone by. I so enjoyed writing my posts this year.

My theme of "Letters to Dead Writers" gave me an excuse to revisit authors whose works have mattered to me across my life and think again about what made them so wonderful. I think this might be my favorite year yet, though I enjoyed all the themes I've explored this way.

2018: Poetry! posts about some of my favorite poets.
2017: Places in my Heart
2016: Superheroes
2015: My Publishing Journey
2014: Evocative Words

I didn't make it out for as much reading of other's blogs as I wanted this year. There are never quite enough hours in the day!

I did enjoy Rebekah Loper's series on Worldbuilding, Patricia Lynne's series of "learn a word in 100 words" short fiction pieces centered around an interesting word, and Deborah Weber's Cabinet of Wonders.

Here's the full list of all my posts:

A: LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
B: CHARLOTTE BRONTE
C: PATRICIA CLAPP
D: DAPHNE DU MAURIER
E: EMILY DICKINSON
F: ANNE FRANK
G: GWENDOLYN BROOKS
H: H.D. (HILDA DOOLITTLE)
I: LAURA INGALLS WILDER
J: JANE AUSTEN
K: HELEN KELLER
L: MADELEINE L’ENGLE
M: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY
N: ANAIS NIN
O: OCTAVIA BUTLER
P: DOROTHY PARKER
Q: QUEEN OF CRIME FICTION, AGATHA CHRISTIE
R: JEAN RHYS
S: SHIRLEY JACKSON
T: SOJOURNER TRUTH
U: URSULA LE GUIN
V: VIRGINIA WOOLF
W: EDITH WHARTON
X: ANNE SEXTON
Y: EMPRESS YAMATO
Z: ZORA NEALE HURSTON

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Wording Wednesday Writing Prompt: A Happy Life

I'm a fan of prompt writing. It keeps the playful part of a writing life alive for me, letting me write something new with no expectations for its future.

Sometimes a piece that began as a prompt turns into something that I can expand upon and publish, but most often, it's about keeping in touch with my creative joy.

I write every day, but when you're working on something large-scale, it can become a slog, and leave you struggling to remember why you love this.

All that is a longwinded introduction to this piece. Fellow author Andy Brokaw is the host of a writing prompt each week. She calls it "Wording Wednesday" because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too

Here's this week's prompt and my take on it: "A Happy Life."

"Graniaile" by Nicole Chartrand  
"Motherhood looks good on you." Giovanni waggled his thick eyebrows, making the baby laugh, a wet, sputtery giggle that left Louisa's shirt further dampened.

She grimaced down at the infant in her arms. "How can something be so cute and so repulsive at the same time?"

"Are you going to keep it?" Angelo came up beside his brother, swinging an arm over his shoulders even though he had to tiptoe to do it. Louisa inhaled so sharply she choked on a strand of her long auburn hair. The two brothers looked at each other and shrugged. Angelo sounded disappointed when he said, "Guess that's a 'no,' then?"

Louisa held the child out at arm's length, noticing that it wasn't only her shirt he'd left dampened. A circular stain expanded across the thigh of her trousers and a sea breeze lifted the scent of fresh urine to her nose. A life at sea meant that she was never completely dry, but in the few days since they'd rescued this baby from the remains of a shipwreck, she'd found whole new worlds of damp and sticky and moist. She looked at her crew. "That's a no. Keep heading for the convent."

She leaned to set the child inside a woven basket on the deck, something Giovanni had found and cleaned out to serve as a holding pen and a bed for the little one. When she tried to straighten, she found that the little boy had grabbed the laces of her blouse. He looked into her face, his eyes wide and clear, free of malice or sadness, light blue as the sky above them. He was beautiful.

If life had gone differently, she might well have had a boy like this of her own. A strong boy clinging to her skirt while she kept a cottage in the mountain village where she'd been raised herself. It might have been a happy life.

The child's grip was strong. She had to pry the pudgy fingers apart to extract herself. Angelo squatted down to offer the baby his finger to hold, distracting him before he could start to wail. Louisa walked to the rail and lifted her head into the wind, closing her eyes to feel the caress of the sea air on her skin.

Yes, it might have been a happy life, but, then, so was this one.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

IWSG: Overwhelmed


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

This month's wonderful co-hosts are Lee Lowery, Juneta Key, Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin!

Be sure to check out their blogs (and others on this great blog hop) when you're finished here!
_______________________________________

I forgot to post this morning. That's how overwhelmed I am. I mean, I can give you a list of excuses, but I really look forward to this post every month and it completely slipped my mind. That's not like me.

Obviously I'm juggling too much. But what can I drop?

I did say no to a few things this spring, trying to help find a better balance. I didn't apply for any conventions or author events in February, March, or April, giving myself back several weekends of time for other things. I also left my long time critique group, deciding to be a little more selfish with that time as well.

But then I said yes to other things, helping to organize a few events for my Friends of the Public Library group, and taking on teaching a new class for a local community college.

I think I'm still suffering from what I complained about last month: the demands of a full time writing life squashed into part time hours leaving me feeling a day late and a dollar short all the time.

I'd love to hear tips from others who manage a writing life while holding down a day job. How do you make it work without driving yourself crazy? What do you let drop?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers Zora Neale Hurtson


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Zora Neale Hurston
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Hurston,

I wish I could have met you. All accounts paint you as a vibrant and fascinating woman, so charismatic as to charm the pants off a snake.

And your words! They sung on the page, so full of life and wonder and determination. Their Eyes Were Watching God has taken a rightful place as your masterwork. 

Janie is an unforgettable character and her story inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. Rather like your own.

In reading about your life, I've learned that you never saw much in the way of financial gain from your work, that, when you died, a collection had to be taken up to bury you.

Your work, too, might have been lost to time if not for the interest of another writer, Alice Walker. What a loss that would have been!

Luckily for me, and generations of readers, Ms. Walker's interest started a revival of interest in your work and now we can all read your words.


I hope you're a star in heaven now, like you deserved to be on earth.

Love,
-Samantha

Monday, April 29, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Empress Yamato


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Empress Yamato.
_____________________________

Dear Empress Yamato,

I'm probably being very presumptuous to write you a letter. You're an empress after all, and I'm a middle school teacher living more than a thousand years and more than a thousand miles from your world.

That's the problem with us 21st century women. We just don't know our place. I like to think you'd understand that, as a woman ruler so long ago. 

There's just something about your story. Something comforting in knowing that a woman rose to power so long ago, and maintained it for eleven years. Something affecting in your words of grief and love.

I haven't seen much of your work. Not much has survived to this day, and even less has been translated and published in English.

Like me, you took special joy in observing the change of seasons, and the weather seemed tied to what you were feeling. My favorite is this one:

It speaks to me of the way grief can come along to smack you in the face at unexpected moments, when something innocuous and ordinary brings your lost love to mind and you feel the loss of them all over again. Those damp sleeves break my heart.

Your admirer from across time and space,
-Samantha

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Anne Sexton



 This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Anne Sexton. I'm cheating a little, using her for X since she has an X in her name, but I don't have a favorite writer whose name begins with X, so here we go!
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Sexton,

 What a voice!

When people talk about a whiskey and cigarettes voice, they mean you, I think, whether we're literally listening to a recording of you reciting your poetry, or reading it for ourselves on the page.

It's scratchy and hard-edged either way, sounding as if there had been a lot of shouting to get to where we are now.

Some people praised your work for its confessional nature, others use the very same words to dismiss it. But "confessional" is just the right word.

Reading your work gives a feeling like someone is sharing a secret with you, something not normally said aloud, something subversive and strange and fascinating.

 You weren't a good person. After your suicide, the sexual abuse of your daughter was revealed. It gave me a strange feeling when I heard about it, as it often does when you learn that someone you admire has done something that isn't admirable.

It brought up that whole art/artist controversy. Can I still admire the work, when I know something ugly about the creator? My answer, is yes, I kind of can. Art after all isn't necessarily about what is comfortable and easy. Sometimes, it's about confronting uncomfortable mixtures of emotions and conflicting beliefs.

And you Ms. Sexton, if nothing else, were certainly all about ambiguity and contradictions.

Thanks for disturbing my complacency,
-Samantha





Friday, April 26, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Edith Wharton


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Edith Wharton
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Wharton,

You broke my heart, one winter when I was about twenty.

With no idea what I letting myself in for, I picked up your novel Ethan Frome. My goodness, but Thomas Hardy has nothing on you when it comes to dark ironies of life and the cruelty of fate.

In literature at least, I have taste for having my heart broken. I like a good, sad story, one that hits me right in the feels. You were a master of it.

Much more recently, I read your Age of Innocence, another tragic love story where two hearts that seem destined to be together are kept apart.

You wrote longing and guilt and feeling trapped so beautifully, capturing the romantic ache of yearning for something you can't have like few artists can.

Some readers make a mistake in overlooking your work, assuming from the covers that it's another stodgy period piece more about corsets and hairstyles than about anything of worth, but about the depths of a person's heart.

It's true that a person could learn a lot about the circles you moved in by reading your novels. You're the main voice the world remembers when it comes to capturing "Old New York." But all that was just the setting in the end. The jewels were in the characters.

Thanks for breaking my heart so breathtakingly,
-Samantha

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Virginia Woolf


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Virginia Woolf
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Woolf,

I first read your books as a college student. First was Mrs. Dalloway, a book that is both about everything and nothing at the same time.  An entire life contained in the events of a single day.

I have to admit that I didn't instantly fall in love with your stream-of-consciousness style. But I was fascinated by your portrayal of the subtleties of a person's heart. You "got" sadness.

Unfortunately, you got it too well. You died at your own hand. People say now that you may have had bipolar disorder, something the medical establishment knew very little about in the 1930s and 1940s. Certainly they didn't know enough to help you. We lost you to suicide. I like to think it would have been different for you if you lived now. I hope it would.

I recently read To the Lighthouse, and gasped as I read, recognizing so many of the situations: the way men and women speak past each other, the difficulty of finding your way as an artist.

Your style may have been radical, but your themes remain universal. A Room of One's Own shouldn't be a radical idea, but so may of us still struggle for literal and figurative space for our art.

I wish you'd found a lasting place for yours.

-Samantha