Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Forward, Looking Back: A New Year's Reflection on My Year in Words
It's the time of year for reflection. Maybe it's just because we get to slow down enough (those of us who are lucky enough to get time off from our day jobs), but here in the waning days of the year, we have time to wonder if they were good days or not.

On the writing front, my year was pretty damned amazing, I must say.

In 2013, in honor of my forty-second birthday (which, according to Douglas Adams is the answer to life, the universe, and everything), I made a promise to myself to start taking my writing seriously. For me, that meant developing a daily writing habit and finishing and submitting things. I stopped talking about being a writer someday and started being a writer now.

2014 began with that daily writing habit firmly in place. In fact, today marks my 460th day in a row of writing every day. My chain before that was 280 days long, and was broken by only a single day. That may not sound like an impressive feat, but I tell you it has made all the difference to my productivity. (I've written about the tool I use to track this progress here and here). I've written over half a million words in that time.

Thanks to that habit, I finished my second novel--which will now be the first one to get published!

A story featuring one of the characters in that novel was published in April, Patricia Saves the Beauty Queen. This turned out to be only the first of several breaks I got this year in publishing. Before that came a decade long dry spell between the poetry I published before I had children and this story. A long, arid desert broken only by a single academic article. It feels good to be on the other side of it. I hope I get to stay here!

In August, Curiosity Quills signed on to publish Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel. We're now down to 112 days until the book is actually released. Sometimes, it's hard to even sit still, I'm so excited by the prospects of that!

I was hot off the first flush of excitement over that contract when I went to GenCon's Writer's Symposium.  I blogged about my experience there and CQ featured my post.

Another project I've been working on are what I call my Shadowhill stories. When there are enough of them, I hope to publish a collection. They're weird tales, set in a neighborhood a lot like the one I live in, but with more magic and horror and strangeness. One of these was published in an app-zine. The New Accelerator published Lawn Wars in October.

October also brought another one of my blogposts being featured on my publisher's website: Sleepover, a personal ghost story.

November brought the publication of one of my blog posts in an anthology of writing advice: The Insecure Writer's Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond. My piece was called "There are Plenty of Fish in the Sea" and was about how traditional publishing is like dating. You can read the original blogpost here.  I also wrote a brand new science fiction story called "Under An Orange Sky" that was accepted for an anthology that should come out soon.

I finished the year with a guest posting on Friend for the Ride and another short story, on Acidic Fiction.

I also blogged a lot--roughly once a week. For next year, I've already got lots of plans for what to finish and what to write new. It feels like I'm on the cusp of living a dream I've had as long as I can remember. That's scary and exciting all wrapped up in one tortilla and served with nice, warm beans.

The moral of the story? It pays to take yourself seriously as a writer. I worked hard on my writing in 2014. I grew as a writer and hope to do the same again in 2015.  May your new year bring you a step closer to what you dream of!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

You Got Your Christmas in my Chanukah!
I married a nice Catholic boy a few years ago. As we approached our first holiday season together, I asked him how he felt about celebrating Chanukah. I'm not particularly religious, but I have always liked The Festival of Lights for its emphasis on family time. I was delighted when he said yes. So, for eight or so years now, we've been doing both Christmas and Chanukah.

Sometimes, it blends beautifully. Sometimes, it's like that old candy commercial : You got your Christmas in my Chanukah! You got your Chanukah in my Christmas! Will these two tastes really taste great together?

This year, like many families, we're trying to scale back our holiday spending. Eight nights of presents, and then Christmas, too, can get really expensive, so we decided to do it differently this year. Instead of making Chanukah about gifts, we planned a family activity for each night. I love it!

Here's a break down of our nights:

First Night: Dreidels and Gelt.

We're teaching the little one the prayers this year, so I got the joy of listening to my older daughter patiently walking her little sister through the words, syllable by syllable. Her sweet little warble alongside our more grown-up voices made me happily teary.  She's growing up, that one! You can tell because she now cheers for anyone who gets Gimel!


Second Night: Family collage!

We've done this before and I think I'd like to have us do it every year until the kids start to refuse. We grab all the magazines in the house and pull pictures of things that represent our family or one of the members of it, then make a family collage. This  year, you'll see comics, heroes, chocolate, popcorn, coffee, legos, games, Star Wars, Twinings tea, and many other things we enjoy together.  The best part was all the laughter and talking while we handed each other pictures to consider.


Third Night: You-Tubing

We have a teenager in our house, so youtube is a service that sees a fair amount of use. We gave each person ten minutes or so to show things they like on youtube to the other family members, who promised to at least watch politely. :-) Here was my contribution:


Fourth Night: Family Movie

Friday night is always tricky at our house. Mom and Dad are exhausted. The teenager wants social time with the boyfriend. The little one is full of happy energy. Whew!  Movie night works for us all--popcorn on the couch in the dark with cuddles and giggles. Perfect. 

Our selection was Sky High--superheroes that don't get too dark for smaller folk, but no annoying cartoon voices for us larger folk. The three larger folk had seen the film before, but it held up very well. It's a really charming flick!


Fifth Night: Family Game

Saturday was challenging. It's always hard to celebrate Jewish holidays when you're not living in a
Jewish community--there are a lot of other demands on your time! The littlest one had her last holiday art class in the morning and her taekwondo studio was having a Christmas party in the evening, so we just changed the order of operations and did our activity first, then ended with candles and prayers.  We also had the teenager's boyfriend over this afternoon. Luckily it was game night--um, afternoon.

We played a game called Flash Point. It's a co-op game (which means that the players are working together to defeat a scenario on the board, rather than competing with each other). We play firefighters, with different types of expertise, working together to rescue people and pets from a fire. I'm happy to report that we rescued all but one of one the fire victims.

Co-op games are my favorite type of games to play with my family. All of us really got into this scenario as well. We scrambled to make sure that kitten made it out there!


Sixth Night: Bowling

This proved to be the expensive night. Bowling. But it was a good time :-)  And I actually won, probably because the hubby succumbed to a migraine and had to stay home. But still, I beat a pair of pretty athletic teenagers, so that felt like something, and the little monkey was adorable rolling her six pound ball down the guide rails.  We also learned that she shares my love of skeeball. Someday, when I'm rich and famous, we'll have a skeeball lane in our game room.


Seventh Night: Baking

I love to bake. So does the little one. The older one not so much, but she does love arts and crafts.
(Papa was still down with the sickness, so didn't get to help with this one.) So, Ninja-bread men and a gingerbread house, it was--where baking is like arts and crafts because the icing is really just edible glue.

We won't be winning any posh awards for our efforts, but we did have a good time. It was a surprise when green hail fell on the plastic lawn of our gingerbread house kit, but we do get some strange weather here in North Carolina.


Eighth Night: Gifts

The last night of Chanukah is always so beautiful. The youngest had learned some of the words (at least Barukh atah Adonai) and all of the tune. Since half our family was ill, we ate homemade chicken soup while we watched the eight candles glow and melt.

We gave each other gifts. The husband got Artisan Dice that I picked up for him at GenCon this summer. I got a shawl I had recently coveted and some Star of David jewelry. The eldest got steampunk style earrings. The youngest got a squishable Catbug, so fluffy she could die! She fell asleep on top of him and had to be resettled lest she wake up with a crick in her neck--he's that fluffy!

So, that was our Chanukah and it was a lovely one indeed. May your holidays be just as bright and full of love and laughter.

I Won't Be Home for Christmas, Part V.
Recap--skip to the line if you already know what's happening. Today, the finale :-)

Part One: Gillian and her sons become snowbound at a hotel stop on the way to Grandma's for Christmas.

Part Two: Gillian is befriended by a set of grandparents, also stranded in holiday travel.

Part Three: Gillian and her boys go tubing with the Balfours.

Part Four: Gillian and her boys have breakfast with the Balfours. Mrs. Balfour and Gillian have a heart to heart about the state of her marriage.


Gillian woke in the middle of the night. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, confused for a moment about where she was. She felt reassured when she saw her boys sleeping in the other bed in the room, then instantly sad again. Tomorrow was Christmas. She checked her phone for the time. Three o'clock. Make that today. Her boys were being brave and understanding about not having any gifts to open in the morning, but Gillian still took it to heart.

It compared poorly to all the other Christmases her boys had celebrated. Usually, Gillian was the one who hosted the parties. Their living room was transformed into a wash of twinkling lights and ribbons. She sent beautiful cupcakes for the teachers at school. She hadn't had the heart for it this year, nor the pocketbook. She wished now that she had stayed home and given the boys a smaller scale holiday. At least there would be gifts and a tree at their own house.

She and Phillip had always loved spoiling the boys together, each trying to make sure that their boys got to experience every joy the season had to offer. Ice skating. Caroling. Baking. Gingerbread houses. Handmade gifts. The season was true family time for them-all about bringing that spark of joy to their children's eyes any way they could.

Gillian knew she could still have done a lot of those things. They didn't all require money. But they did all require heart and hers had been broken.

She'd tried to call Phillip, just as she promised herself she would, but her three attempts had only gotten voicemail. She picked up her phone again to check now, but there were no missed calls or text messages.

Gillian stood and walked back to the window. She could see the tracks their afternoon sledding expedition had left all over the parking lot. There were gaps in the parking lot now. Travelers who were heading east had excavated their cars and continued their journeys, but the road westward had still been unsafe for travel at nightfall. They wouldn't arrive at her parents' house in time for Christmas morning now. Maybe Christmas night, if they were lucky.

Gillian leaned her forehead against the cool glass and watched the moonlight sparkle on the untouched snow on the other side of the road. She turned and looked at her boys sleeping. They both looked small and vulnerable in the king-sized bed. Even ten-year-old Steve's face, which had been looking all too adult, looked pudgy and toddler-ish squished against his pillow. Jack's arm was flung across his brother liked he'd fallen asleep tapping him on the shoulder, which he might well have done. Gillian resisted the desire to stroke their hair. Let sleeping angels rest, she reminded herself.

She shivered a little then, and decided she'd really like a cup of tea. She wrapped herself in a cardigan sweater over her pajamas, left a note for Steve just in case the boys woke, and locked them in the room and headed for the lobby. She didn't want to disturb the boys with her preparation sounds and Maxine had said she'd leave the hot water pot hooked up in case she and the boys needed to make a cup of noodles or something.

The lobby was dimly lit. Apparently the small hotel didn't leave the lights blazing all night. The little decorated tree was still lit, though and it looked pretty reflecting in the tile floor. Gillian crept into the kitchen area and flipped a lightswitch. She made herself a cup of lemon tea in one of the little tan paper cups the hotel provided.

When she turned to go back upstairs, she glanced over at the sofa area. There was someone there, lying on the couch. She looked nervously at the reception desk, debating ringing the bell and waking whoever was resting in the back room. She put her cup of tea down on the counter and circled a little nearer the sleeping person.

It was a man, a man who was a little too long to fit onto the couch fully. A man resting under a hotel blanket, which meant that the clerk must know he was there, but that he hadn't taken a room for some reason. A man who was wearing one red and one green sock on the feet that dangled off the end of the couch, just like Phillip always did on Christmas morning.


The man made a sleep-grumble sort of sound, and shifted on the couch, making the upholstery squeak.

"Phillip?" Her voice was louder this time.

He heard her. He bolted upright. "Gillian?" He stood up and rushed to her side, pulling her into a hug. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him back.

"What are you doing here?" she laughed.

"I couldn't stay away. I was going to meet you at your parents' house, but when I called, they told me where you were and I decided to meet you here."

"Why didn't you come upstairs?"

"I got here at two in the morning. I didn't want to wake you all up."

Gillian laughed again. "I just can't believe you're really here!"

He raised a hand to her face and rubbed at the tears that were falling there. "Ah, Gills. It's Christmas. I needed to be with my family. I needed to be with you."

They embraced for a long time after that, until both of them started to shiver a little from sock feet on tile floor.

"Come on," she said, pulling him by the hand. "Wait till the kids wake up and see what Santa brought us!"


Friday, December 19, 2014

Deja Vu

I'm a little late to this party, but I just learned about the Deja Vu blogfest today. It's a fantastic idea. Organized by  DL Hammons and Nicole Zoltack, a group of bloggers are republishing a favorite post from 2014. What a great way to catch up on all the great blogposts you missed this year! Please follow the link and visit some of the blogs.

So, here's mine from February, 2014. A nice little piece that made me happy to write: An Autobiography in Cars. 
My mother tells me that the first car she drove when I was a baby was a '62 Dodge Dart, but I don't remember that car, not even from pictures. The first one I remember was her '66 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
I thought it was beautiful, and she was beautiful. When I grew up I was going to be tall and blond and beautiful and drive a red fancy car like my mother. (I'm medium sized,  brunette and drive a black SUV . . . so 0 for 3, I'm afraid). 

After that car, Mom drove a series of utterly unmemorable Honda Civics, each one interchangeable with the one it replaced. But given the miles we covered with dance classes, band competitions, and tennis matches, it was probably good that she went with cars that got good mileage. 

The other vehicles I remember from childhood are all trucks. There was my grandfather's truck, a '52 Ford. What I remember best about it is the really wide flat running boards. I was a skinny kid.
When I played hide and seek with my cousins, I could hide in one of those running boards and cling to the side of the truck. If I timed it well, I could keep moving from one side of the truck to the other without being seen by the other kids. 

My dad had a truck we called El Porco, because of the amount of gas he consumed. I can't explain why the truck had a Spanglish name. My sister and I thought he was awesome, though. He was big and tough and strong, and had little fold down seats behind Mom and Dad's seats for us. 

After El Porco, Dad had a series of Toyota trucks, mostly red, mostly interchangeable with the one that came before just like Mom's Hondas. Though, there was one that got dolled up by an uncle who was into body work and perhaps a little stuck in the '70s.

It looked like they had won it at the fair. It was blue with sparkles in the paint and had an airbrush-looking window that had my parents names in a heart, like a teeshirt bought at a beach vacation. I was just old enough to find this mildly embarrassing, and redneck enough to imagine someday having such a thing myself. 

After that, we get into my own cars. My first one was a red Honda Civic that I called Gertrude. My mom always said it was a glorified roller-skate. True, Gertrude wasn't powerful, but she never let me down, and, for her size, she held an incredible number of my friends on the way to King's Island Amusement Park. Certainly more than the legal limit. 

Gertrude went to college with me, but was replaced by something a little newer and arguably better in my sophomore year. Etsuyo was a grey Honda Accord. I never took to her, though she served me well. I let the then-husband (yes, I married stupid-young; that's part of why it didn't last) name the car. He named her after a girl from Japan he had known. Thinking back on things, that was probably a bad sign. 

After that came my Alaskan adventure. Dad helped me find the perfect truck. Of all the vehicles I have ever owned, this might be my heart's wheels. His name was Beauregard, Beau for short. He was a '77 Sierra Grande GMC truck (which made him only a few years younger than me). He had 6 cylinders, and 3 on the tree. I felt like such a gearhead for knowing things like that about him, and, believe me, I am not a gearhead. When I looked in his old and simply designed motor lacking any computer-based parts, I understood what some of the parts were, and even replaced some of them myself, standing on his bumper to be able to see into the cavernous engine area. It was an empowering feeling. 

Beau held all my wordly possessions (books and clothes, mostly--you should have seen the guy's face when we crossed the Canadian border) and I drove him to Kodiak, Alaska with two college friends. We took turns sleeping in the back in a sort of bunk on top of all my tubs of books. He explored that island with me and moved with me to the mainland a couple of years later. 

Beau died saving the life of my then-husband in a winter-roads car accident that surely would have killed the man if the vehicle in question had been a modern chunk of plastic instead of an old piece of metal. Beau had an honorable death, and I still miss him. 

Beau was replaced by a Mazda truck that I never liked as well, but got good mileage out of.  I didn't name her, but knew she was female. The Mazda had belonged to a friend named Marcia, and it was one of those help each other things. She needed to sell it due to a change in her marital circumstances; we needed wheels. The Mazda was the truck that I explored mainland Alaska in, with my German Shepherd/Husky mix dog, Häagendog. 

When I moved to Nome, it would've cost too much to take the Mazda, so, instead, I took it on a cross country trip with my mother. We traveled the Alcan down into the Dakotas, then went to Yellowstone, and eventually brought the truck to Kentucky, where an uncle took her over and drove her until she literally broke in half. He said that she smelled of my dog for the rest of her life. 

I arrived in Nome with no wheels, so the principal at the school gave me an old Ford Bronco he had to beat around in. It was really beat up. Only one door opened, the windshield was cracked, and the seats were torn and covered in towels, but at least I didn't have to worry about whether he'd be upset at me for damaging it with muddy footprints and the smell of a dog who rolled in dead Walrus. 

After a few months, I was able to get a Suzuki Sidekick. It was cute, and we set it up with a gate to keep the dog in the back section, away from the child, when he ate a moose leg he found somewhere. The Sidekick served us well for a few years, though getting body work done in rural Alaska is interesting. The then-husband backed the car into a telephone pole one sleepy morning. They had to fly in a new back door from Anchorage, so it took a while. Luckily, it was summer. 

When we left Alaska in a last-ditch effort to save the marriage, we moved to Kansas. As part of the compensation package, I got a beautiful old house and the newest car I'd ever had: a 2000 New Volkswagen Bug. (I had to part with both when I parted with the husband, but they were nice while they lasted). 

The Bug was Kermit green. Darn it was cute. We called it the Bubble Car and the little one and I drove it to every zoo, farm, apple orchard and other kid-pleasing thing in the whole darn state. There are an inordinate number of small zoos in Kansas, by the way. The seats flipped up and I could stand inside the back of the car when getting the kiddo in and out of her carseat. The seats were also leather and heated. I felt spoiled as heck. I got a speeding ticket or two in it, too, because that thing had zip. That, and hay trucks make me impatient. 

The divorce car was another Honda Accord. It had been my sister's. It was another help each other car. She was moving to Hawaii and needed to get rid of her car. I needed a car. It was a perfectly reliable and serviceable car. I never liked it. I don't miss it, but I was grateful for its years of service. One of my uncles has it now--the same uncle who took the Mazda. I wonder if it smells like our new dog. 

Now, I drive Duncan. He's a Toyota Highlander, hence the name. He's posh, with heated seats and such, like the Bug was. But he feels like a truck, like Beau. I like him so much that my now-and-forever-husband is jealous of him. I think I'll keep him as long as he runs (that's the car . . . and the husband). 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Won't Be Home for Christmas, part 4

Continuing my Christmas story. You can read the first three parts here:

Part One: In which Gillian and her sons get stranded on the way to visit Grandma for Christmas.
Part Two: In which Gillian is befriended by other stranded travelers: Louise and Henry, grandparents.
Part Three: In which Gillian accepts an offer for a four-wheeler ride to the diner with her sons.
The whole group stopped just inside the door of the diner to stomp as much of the snow off their boots as they could. The diner was packed and a woman wearing a blue apron over a pink dress called out that there was a table in the corner. She gestured at it with the coffeepot she was carrying, then hurried to the opposite corner to pour some of the warm contents for another customer.

They were still removing and stacking their snow gear when the waitress appeared with two hot chocolates and three coffees. "I can bring some juice or milk if you want, but I thought you'd want something warm first." She sat the tray on the table and distributed the mugs in front of everyone. Henry told her she was a genius and a gem and the woman smiled broadly. Within a minute or two, she had taken everyone's orders and run off again, towards the kitchen this time.

Gillian wrapped her hands around the mug. Despite her best gloves and the woolen blanket Henry had provided, she was chilled and the coffee felt wonderful.  When she picked it up and sipped it, she found that it tasted wonderful, too.   Jack already had a hot chocolate mustache, while Steve was rather noisily sipping his cocoa by the spoonful, stirring it between each dip.

"Thank you both so much! That was just what we needed, I think."

Louise smiled. "It does clear the head, moving fast in the cold air. It did us good, too." She gripped her husband's fingers and smiled at him and Gillian felt a twinge of something a lot like sadness at the show of love between them. She ruffled Jack's hair and his smile was a reminder of how much she still had to be grateful for.

The group took a leisurely breakfast, chatting and eating, and, for once, Gillian's boys didn't seem to grow restless. They used the paper and crayons the waitress bought them and played table games like dots and hangman or drew strange scenes together.  Henry nodded at the boys. "Looks like you done right by these boys. Santa should be pretty kind to such good children." The boys beamed at the compliment, and Gillian ducked her head toward her coffee mug to hide the sudden tears that stung in the corners.

She and the boys weren't starving by any means, but neither was she going to be able to spoil them this year, not with the expense of maintaining two households to manage. Her husband's opportunity in New York had been a very good one. "Too good to pass up," he'd said. "The opportunity of a lifetime." And she had acquiesced. Seeking peace even when her heart begged her to argue, just as she always had.

When it was time to go back, Henry offered to take the boys for some extra spins around the hotel lot, "If it's okay with your mother." Gillian didn't stand a chance against the two sets of puppy eyes. She laughed and agreed, making Henry promise to come back as soon as he was tired and not let the boys keep out longer than he wanted.

Louise and Gillian waved off the boys, then went to the coffee bar in the hotel lobby.  Maxine, the front desk clerk, was there talking with a man that turned out to be her husband and the manager of the hotel. Roads eastward were opening back up, but westward, another front had dumped another
blizzard on the roads between here and Gillian's parents' house. Gillian sighed at the news, stirring her coffee with the plastic stirrer and watching the brown liquid twirl around the top.

When she looked up again, Louise was watching her. "I think I might be about to stick my foot in it," she said, "but I have to ask. Where is the boys' father?"

"New York."

"But I thought you said you guys came from Chicago."

"We did. The boys and I still live in Chicago, but my husband has been in New York for a few months now. For business."

Louise frowned. "Aren't you and the boys his business?"

Gillian felt a defensive speech rising to her lips, but bit it back down. In her heart, she felt the same way and there was no reason to try to defend this separation to this woman right now. Instead, she just nodded.

"Do you still love him?" Louise asked.

"Yes, I still do. I'm just not sure he still loves me."

"Have you told him?" Gillian was confused and it must have shown on her face. Louise went on, "I mean, have you told him recently? It can easy to forget to say it, but we all need to hear it. Faith is easy to lose if no one is reminding you of your blessings."

Gillian made a silent promise to herself to call Phillip that night after the boys fell asleep, and this time to talk about her own feelings, instead of only about the boys.

(to be continued)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Five Secrets

I was tagged by Elizabeth Hein to share five secrets about myself. This turned out to be much more challenging than I first thought. Do I even have five secrets? I'm not sure I do, let alone five secrets I'm willing to confess on my blog. Hmmmm . .. .let's just go with "five things I hope you find interesting about me."

Thing One: I can't hold pencil properly. This strikes me as rather ironic in a writer. My "writer's callus" is on the wrong finger! (Even stranger--my husband also holds his pencil wrong. Is it a sign we were meant to be? Or just a sign we both went to elementary school in Kentucky?)

Thing Two: My favorite movies are all older than I am. I'm a classic movie buff.  Or rather, an old movie buff--because some of the movies I love are certainly not classy enough to be called classic (I have an taste for old horror schlock and exceedingly cheesy science fiction, too).

While I have trouble remembering the names of people currently appearing in movies, I can go on for a long time about actors who died before I was even born (or when I was still a kid): Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, William Holden, Vincent Price, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck--people who did a lot of their best work in black and white films. I'm always trying to make it to the Retro film festival events at The Carolina or to the film festivals at NCMA.  Someday, when my children are grown and I am free on Friday night, you'll find me at all of them!

Thing Three: If you know me in person, then you already know that I only wear Converse-style sneakers (some of them are not, in fact, *actual* Converse, as I am not made of money).

In fact, I only own a couple of pairs of shoes that aren't Converse sneakers: one pair of clunky sandals for day's when it's too hot for socks, one pair of Mary Janes for dress-up occasions. If boots count as "shoes," then I have five because I have my rodeo boots, rain boots, and hiking boots, too.

At last count, I had 22 pairs of sneakers in a variety of colors and designs. I even wore Converse under my wedding dress. After I turned forty, I decided that, if I was going to keep on teaching, I needed comfortable feet. I haven't worn a pair of "grownup shoes" to work since.

Thing Four: I have lived kind of a lot of places in my life, especially when you consider that I spent ages 3-18 all in one house. It makes answering "Where are you from?" interesting. I live in a fairly rural small town in North Carolina and grew up in a much more urban small town in Kentucky, and I've lived in Kansas, Alaska, Vermont, Oxford, England, and Spain, too, at least for short stints. In my heart, though, I am still from Nome, Alaska, where I spent most of my twenties. It's the place I felt the most like I belonged.

Thing Five: I study German longsword with the Triangle Sword Guild. (More a pursuit than a study, lately. :-P).  My husband and I practice together in the driveway sometimes and have nearly caused several car wrecks. Recently, we painted my face shield to look like a calavera which the other students find disconcerting. Hey, I'll take any advantage I can get!

That was fun! I hope you enjoyed reading it. I tag J.H. Moncrieff and Sarah Foster to go next!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Won't Be Home for Christmas, Part Three

Last Christmas, I started a Christmas story. I never finished it. I'm hoping to finish it this month.

Part 1: Gillian was traveling from Chicago to visit Grandma in Oklahoma City with her two sons, Steve (10) and Jack (6), when they got snowed in at their hotel in Kansas City.

Part 2: Gillian remembers better times and meets Henry and Louise Balfour, from Colorado, on the way to Tennessee to see their own grandchildren.

And now, part three:
It felt good to laugh. Laughing loosened something in Gillian that she hadn't realized was tight. In the moment of the tension releasing, she could feel in her shoulders, neck and jaw how stiffly she'd been holding herself. Phillip had called her "my stress puppy" when she got herself tied up in knots like that. She missed having him rub the knots out of her neck with his thumbs. He told her she worried too much. After the emotional roller-coaster of his Halloween and Thanksgiving visits, though, she was realizing that she had plenty of reason to worry.

"I'd better get upstairs. I've got to figure out what to bundle the boys in to traverse the Arctic wasteland out there between us and the diner." She stood and held out her hand to Louise. "It was nice to meet you."

Louise shook her hand, but didn't relinquish the fingers right away afterwards. "Henry," she said, turning to give her husband a meaningful look. Louise looked at Henry, too, unable to fathom what his wife might be trying to hint at. Henry had no such trouble catching his cue and responding.

"I've got a four-wheeler and a sled. If you'll accept the offer, I'd love to give you and your children a ride."

Gillian froze for a moment. She thought it was a sweet offer, and it also scared the heck out of her. These people were strangers, and she and the boys were alone here. Four-wheeling and sledding were among those questionable sorts of activities that her mom friends back home would whisper about disapprovingly in the back of PTA meetings. They were also activities she remembered fondly from her own childhood--a safe kind of dangerous and exciting, if done right.

"I bet your boys would love it," Louise said, just a hint of Tennessee in the word love. Tennessee didn't sound that different than Oklahoma. It sounded a lot like home. "Don't you think they'd love it?"

Gillian had no doubt they would. In fact, just thinking about Steve and Jack red-faced and laughing made her shove her fears aside. After all, it was just her and the boys most of the time. There was no reason to think this was any more dangerous than any other day. The boys could use some fun, and she could use the help.

"Thank you so much!" she gushed. "When do you want us to be ready?"

They agreed to meet in half an hour and Gillian flew up the stairs, key card in hand to tell the boys.

Twenty minutes later, Gillian was standing in the lobby with two boys wearing all their snow gear over their pajamas and jeans.  They were a comedy of growing patterns. Steve's jacket sleeves were too short and his skinny forearms hung out between the sleeve and the top of his puffy gloves. He'd grown that much since last winter and, since Grandma bought him a new coat that he'd receive for Christmas, Gillian hadn't replaced his jacket yet. Jack's snowsuit, which used to belong to his brother, was so long on him that Gillian had folded the legs up twice, making an extra thick layer on her son's lower legs. He had to stand with his legs spread wide because he couldn't rest his feet next to one another.

She stood the boys in front of the hotel lobby Christmas tree and took a picture with her phone to send to Grandma. Maxine, the hotel clerk, even came around and took another one for her so she could have one of the three of them. Gillian squeezed both boys and grinned for the camera. She had to admit that she was looking forward to the ride, too.

A moment or two later, Louise and Henry pulled up on their four-wheeler. Louise was so bundled up that she was only recognizable by her hair, but Gillian knew her voice and introduced her boys to the Mr. Henry and Ms. Louise. Her boys offered gracious thank yous and stood waiting to be invited to climb aboard, though both of them were eyeing the giant innertube sled with obvious excitement.

"So, you first, Miss Gillian." Henry stood next to the innertube and held out a hand which Gillian used to balance herself as she climbed in. She took a spot in the middle back, remembering that the innertube moved better if the heaviest person sat in back. Both boys climbed in quickly and Henry helped to tuck a thick woolen blanket around them. "You all hold on tight now!" Henry said, then hurried back to the four-wheeler and climbed on.

Henry climbed back on to the four-wheeler and his wife wrapped her arms around him. He revved the engine twice, and they were off.  Gillian squealed and both her boys grinned at her as they grasped at the rubbery handles of the innertube and bounced agains the sides and each other. Mr. Henry took the long way around, driving around the hotel twice before heading across the lot to the diner. He circled the diner, too, before parking and Gillian and her boys laughed as they were flung to one side and then the other of the innertube. They were laughing so hard when they stopped that Gillian had tears in her eyes. She hadn't had that kind of fun in years.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IWSG: The Valley After NaNoWriMo

Like a lot of writers, I participated in NaNoWriMo in November. For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It's sort of the equivalent of a marathon for writers. In the thirty days of November, you write 50,000 words. You "win" if you succeed in writing 50,000 words.

Maybe 50,000 words in one month is no big deal for some writers, but for writers like me who have day jobs, children, a house, etc., it's no small feat. I have tried it twice and now I've won twice! (Pardon me while I try and pat myself on the back and end up walking in an awkward circle for a while).

So, now, here we are a couple of days after, and I'm all "meh." I don't really feel like writing--like, at all--and that's sort of like saying I don't feel like breathing for me. This happened to me last year, too. PPD: post-party-depression. I feel good about stretching myself, but it's left me a little burnt. 

Did anyone of you do #NaNoWriMo this year (or another year)? Do you suffer from PPD now? How are you shaking it and getting excited about your projects again?

This posting is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To check out other posts by writers in a variety of places in their careers, check out the participant list. This group is one of the most open and supportive groups of people I have ever been associated with. You should check them out!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Watch Me Burn! (Cover and Trailer reveal)

I am thrilled to take part in the cover and trailer reveal for Book 2 in The December People Series, Watch Me Burn!

So without further ado...

A note from the author:

Thank you to artist Michelle Johnson and the whole team at Curiosity Quills Press for creating a cover I love! 

If you haven't guessed it by now, you'll see a butterfly on the cover of every book in The December People Series. The butterfly is a symbol of transformation, hope, freedom, and generally creepy crawlies turning into beautiful things. And also...look how pretty! ;)

Instead of the broken glass from Destruction, this butterfly is surrounded by fire, and it's probably obvious why from the title. Watch Me Burn is the summer book in the series. All the books center around my winter wizard family, but each book takes us deeper into a different season. Summer wizards are the "light" wizards, but light also means HEAT and FIRE.

More about Watch Me Burn:

David Vandergraff lost his home, his job, and contact with his oldest son, but remains determined to be a good husband and father despite being a dark winter wizard.

His resolve is tested when a flyer for a missing girl--who happens to be a summer witch--begins to haunt him. David believes a spell needs to use him to save her, so he follows the magic's command and looks into her disappearance. His teenage daughter Emmy resents him for caring so much about a random stranger. But when she uncovers some disturbing evidence close to home, she begins an investigation of her own.

David and Emmy quickly learn that the mystery is not only about a missing girl they barely know, but a deeply personal story that impacts everyone they care about. As their world crumbles, they fear the warning may be true—never mess with summer wizards, because the good guys always win.

If you're new to The December People Series, start with Destruction--99 cents for a limited time!

Enter to win!! Get a paperback of your choice of Destruction OR Watch Me Burn. International entries welcome. Also join The December People Winter Celebration for more giveaways!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Home for the Holidays
It's going to be just us four (five, if you count the dog) this year for Thanksgiving, and I find I'm very happy about that. I know a lot of people value this time with their larger family--aunts, cousins, grandparents, etc. I usually do, too. After all, I don't see them often. I miss them.

But I find myself feeling very grateful for a few days at home with just my own little family around me. For people who all share a home, it can feel like we don't get to see each other that much. School and work take the bulk of the day. By the time, we're all home, it's dark outside.

Then, we all have homework. Even the seven-year-old has responsibilities to keep up in terms of homework. The high schooler sometimes drowns in it. The people who employ my husband seem to think they have the right to demand his evening hours, too, all too often. I've been doing better at leaving work at work, but, since I've taken on more with my writing, it's almost like working a second job.

Life moves so quickly these days that I blink twice and another week has passed. Most of the time, I feel like I'm running as fast I can just to stand still.

So, the idea of several days where we might sit on the couch and watch a movie or play a board game, or just talk around leftover pie and a fire? Heaven. Those who know me know that these sentiments are strangely homebody for a the girl with a wanderlust that took her to Alaska as a younger woman. I'm normally up for anything that starts with "Do you want to go . . .?" It's a new feeling to me to say, "You know, I don't want to go anywhere."

So, this year I am thankful that my larger family has plans without me. I'm looking forward to time at my own hearth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fall into Winter

I used to love fall. Crunchy leaves under my feet and cooler weather--sweater weather--was my idea of a perfect day. Part of me still does . . .I just want different things from the days than life is offering. This fall, I'm not loving it.

Maybe it's just that I had made the decision to leave the classroom last year, but failed to find a financial option that let me do so. Maybe it's the new responsibilities that my first significant successes as a writer have brought into my life (without taking any of my old responsibilities away).

Either way I'm grumpy, and trying to shake it.

Daylight savings didn't help. It never bothered me to go to work in the dark, but it bothers me a lot to come in the dark and feel like I never got to see the sun.  Getting extra-cold super-fast didn't help either. There's frost already! It makes my hands, knees and foot ache with that deep internal pain that we're not yet admitting out loud is arthritis. (I'm only 43!) I may have to buy a coat. I haven't owned a real coat since I moved to North Carolina.

There are compensations, though.

Since it's cold, I get to sit next to the fire warming my toes under a blanket and drinking cocoa, often with cuddles from husband, child or dog. I get to wear jeans to work as part of our holiday fundraiser at school. It's not hot (if you think I don't like cold, you should hear me kvetch and moan about hot). I look cute in sweaters.

I think it's time to find the joy of fall again. If I can get home during daylight, I'll rake up a pile of leaves and jump in with the kids. There's a special sort of joy that comes only when you have colorful leaves in your hair. You wanna come? I'll make the cocoa.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014--Week Two

design by Elizabeth Doyle
NaNoWriMo is in full swing. This is my second year. Last year, I ended up with a historical fiction piece that I feel really good about (It's third in the queue for rewriting right now). This year, I'm writing a young adult magic and friendship novel. My working title is Rat Jones and the Lacrosse Zombies.

For those who haven't done it. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's November every year. The idea is that you write 50,000 words in one month.  It amounts to a little less than 2,000 words a day to make it on time. People either love it or hate it.

This year, I'm doing both.

What's great about NaNoWriMo is that it keeps me from overthinking things. I can't stop and research a lot. I have to keep moving forward even when I'm not at all sure what might happen next. That can be really good for a story, giving it a sense of spontaneity and leaving room for the characters to surprise me.
What's bad about NaNoWriMo is exactly those same things. It's not my natural process to barrel through, ignoring flaws and plowing forward. I'm a pantser, which means that I don't outline or heavily plan before I begin writing. But, I also am not comfortable with what people call "the vomit draft." I do what I call a "discovery draft." I write, just following the characters and story until it makes itself clear. Once, I know where it's gong, I do more planning.

I also edit and write at the same time . . .circling back and adding scenes to support a subplot when it comes up, going back and changing a detail as soon as it changes.

For where I am in my writing life right now, though, I'm still glad I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year. A little success has put more time pressure on things, and it feels really good to set aside this one month for exploring a brand new idea. It'll give me a mental break from the world I've been creating for Going Through the Change and its sequels and let me come back to that sequel with fresh eyes.

Sometimes, you just need to play with some different imaginary friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

It hurts a little less now . . .

Ah. Rejection.

I got eight in the month of October (and one acceptance!). It was a pretty good month.

The first few times I sent my work out into the wilds of the publishing world, when I was a mere whippersnapper of twenty or thirty years, I pinned a lot of hopes on the results. I would wait anxiously, checking the mail multiple times a day. I didn't create new work while I waited. When my poems (I was mostly a poet then), came back with broken wings and rejection notes, I took it to heart. I doubted the value of my own work. Each rejection stung.

When I reinvented myself as a fiction writer as I began my forties, it all began again in new markets. But, you know, it's less painful this time. Maybe it's the genre, maybe it's my age, maybe it's just time and experience, but, these days, when my work comes back rejected, it just doesn't hurt like it used to.

I think it's in my attitude about the work. These days, I don't wait watching the mail. I send my work out there. Then, I turn back to my computer and write something else. I don't invest my heart in the opinion of this or that editor. After all, that work is done. I'm worried about the new thing I'm creating.
Of course, I'm thrilled if I can get an acceptance (the acceptance/rejection ratio is still pretty darn skewed towards rejection), but a rejection, especially a form rejection, just makes me shrug, choose another venue and send my work back out there again. After all, no one can accept it and publish it if I leave it sitting on my hard drive unread by others.

I've also learned to value the small victory. A very long wait time must mean that they spent a lot of time considering it, right? (Humor me). A quick rejection means that I can turn it around that much more quickly and find the venue that will love my words.  A personal rejection with a helpful comment glows like a diamond in a pile of dark coal form rejections. It promises future victory.

So, here's to rejection! It's the first step towards acceptance!

This posting is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To check out other posts by writers in a variety of places in their careers, check out the participant list. This group is one of the most open and supportive groups of people I have ever been associated with. You should check them out!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#My Ghost Story

NOTE: To protect the "innocent" I'm avoiding using my childhood friend's name. I'll call her "A." (Not really A's house)
A. told me her house was haunted, but I didn't believe her. I thought she was just embarrassed to have me over and was making excuses. My family wasn't rich, but hers was far poorer. I'd seen cockroaches skittering across the sink behind the leaking faucet when I came over to work on a school project. There was never anything to eat. You had to go in the back door because the stairs had caved in at the front door.

Still, I wanted to spend the night.

We'd be far less well supervised at her house than we were at mine. A.'s mother worked long hours and, even if she was home, was likely to be soundly asleep pretty early. Her house was near enough the Avenue (which is what everyone called the main street through town), that we could walk to a small club that I technically wasn't allowed to go to, where a boy I wouldn't be allowed to date liked to hang out.

So, I pushed. She reluctantly agreed.

I showed up with my overnight bundle right on time. Slipped into the sleeping bag was a dress I had managed to buy without my mother knowing. It was shorter and tighter than I would have been allowed to wear. Now that I'm a mother, I see her point. But this was then. I was fifteen. I knew everything. (Though the dress was a horribly 80s thing . . . so maybe I didn't know *everything*).

When my friend let me in, we went to her room to change and primp before our planned departure for our not-so-slumber party. The weirdness began right away.

I had barely entered the room, when the door slammed shut behind me, as if an angry person had thrown it closed. I jumped, squeaking a little. A. put her hands on her hips and looked up at the ceiling. "I told you to be nice!" she yelled. The door creaked gently back open again. "That's better," she said softly and shrugged apologetically at me.

I was rattled, but I was going to admit that to A. I already felt inadequate next to her in so many ways. A. had it rough and it had made her tough in a beautiful way that I admired. I felt weak and naïve next to her and was always doing foolish things to try and show that I could "hack it." She had this don't-fuck-with-me air about her. The air around me was awfully sweet and push-over-y. At least that's how I saw it then.

So, I laughed as if she had played a great joke on me, and pulled out my primping supplies. We spent an hour or so messing with each other's hair and getting our clothing to lay just so, and then we were off.

The night was nothing to remember. The boy I liked didn't show up. One of A.'s ex-boyfriend's did. The music was loud, and not my kind of music. Everyone there seemed older and more glamorous than us. Mostly we sat on a stone wall at the back and felt awkward.

Our bravado was up on the way home though, and we each pretended for the other that we had had a better time than we had. We had cheered each other pretty thoroughly by the time we arrived at A.'s back door.

Following her lead, I was quiet as we walked through the downstairs. I swung the bag of convenience store snacks I had picked up for us in one hand and followed her to the stairwell. On the landing halfway up, A. turned to me and asked me to wait. I nodded, leaning against the bannister and pulling off my ridiculous shoes. A. went upstairs ahead of me.

I didn't have to wait long, and that was good because the stairwell was creaky and poorly lit and I was freaking myself out pretty well. I was sure that I heard whispering. She came to the top of the stairs a minute or two later and hissed that I could come up. I hurried after her.

When I think about it now, I know it's entirely possible that A. was yanking my chain, and that she had done all the damage herself while I was waiting there on the landing. But she really did seem as surprised as me when we opened the door and there were feathers all over the room. Surprised and angry. Her face purpled.

As I stood there with my mouth hanging open, slowly figuring out that a pillow had been sliced open and the feathers had come from inside, the boombox in the corner suddenly cut on. Neither of us was standing near it. And I jumped and squealed again. The radio station went to fuzz then turned back off.

A. rolled her eyes. "Now he's showing off."

I smiled tentatively. "Boys always do." I was scared to ask who "he" was.

That made her laugh and I felt clever and brave. But when the lights cut off, we jumped into each other's arms and stood looking around at the room for a long moment. I tried not to let myself tremble. After another moment or two, the lights flickered back on and A. turned to me. "I think he's gone for now."

I nodded. "You hungry?"


We flopped down in the middle of the floor amid all the feather and opened our snack bag and devoured our chips and snack cakes and sodas like they were going out of style. I agreed with A. that the room felt different now. Maybe I had just overcome my fears, or maybe there really was a ghost and the ghost had finished playing with us for the night.

Weird things continued to happen from time to time whenever I visited A.'s house, though nothing as scary as that night. To this day, I don't know the name of the ghost. She said that telling his story would only make him stronger, so she refused to tell. Maybe she didn't even know. 


This Halloween, Curiosity Quills authors are spreading the spookiness by sharing their own personal paranormal experiences. Get haunted with these bone-chilling blogs, or post your own! #myghoststory

Here are some of the others:

JE Anckorn
Michael Cristiano
Katie Teller

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Growing When You're Not a Beginner

I have a lot to learn.

Sure, I've learned a lot in my first forty-odd years here on planet Earth, but in any endeavor that matters, I can still grow.

The problem is finding ways to do that.

When you're new at something, it's easy to find a mentor. There are a lot of people who are better than you and can help you move forward. There are very basic things that you don't yet know.

But, the further you get, the harder it becomes. Eventually, when you're truly top-level, you have to become your own teacher, setting for yourself what the next level is and figuring out what exercises will stretch you and get you there. Our needs as learners become more and more individual and it's harder to find a "group solution" that includes you.

I'm not there yet. But I am far enough along in some endeavors, teaching and writing especially, that I'm having trouble finding things that move me forward. Where's the training for intermediates?

I went to a teaching conference recently and found that 90% of what was being offered were sessions I could have taught. Frustrating. I've found the same thing at some writing seminars and conferences.

As a teacher, I've learned to use reflective practice to help me grow. I analyze a lesson in terms of how well my students engaged and how much they retained. The next time I teach the same topic, I make adjustments accordingly, trying to figure out how to engage more people and help them retain more knowledge longer term. It's a struggle, as reflection requires time and I only have 90 minutes per workday in which I am not actively teaching. Reflection often gets shoved down the list in favor of things like providing training to others, performing secretarial tasks necessary for lessons, and keeping up with communication streams, or, you know, using the bathroom and eating lunch.

At least in writing, I set my own pace. Reflective practice is trickier. My writing is more personal than the Spanish lessons I provide. It's harder to view objectively. So, reflective practice, for me, is a matter of finding an appropriate peer group, in putting my work out there and listening to the feedback with a heart to learn. I am fortunate in my local critique group, which includes writers in a similar part of the journey as me, as well as some who are more skilled than me, and others that I can help along. I also participate in a few online critique groups and response is varied. Not everyone is there with a heart to learn.

One of these opportunities for reflective practice, for me, is the #saturdayscenes movement on Google+. The work I present there is much more raw than the work I am sending to magazines, anthologies and other publishing venues. I value the interactions I have in this community because nearly everyone is there with a heart to learn and grow. Pontification and defensiveness are at a minimum.

So, I guess the key is, once again, community. A community of learners, all with a heart to learn.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cover Reveal: Altar of Reality by Mara Valderran

I am so pleased today to be able to be one of the bloggers revealing the cover for Mara Valderran's new book, Altar of Reality.

Isn't it awesome? I'm already anxious to read it. If you feel like you can't wait, you can start with Heirs of War (the first book) or Heirs of War, Crown of Flames (the second book), which came out Oct. 13. There are links on her website for buying.