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!!

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