Author Archives: Jillian Kuhlmann

About Jillian Kuhlmann

Nerd. Writer. Mama.

You Say it’s Your Birthday

So, last year I had some lofty goals for 34. Now I’m 35 and this year I just have a lot of excuses.

  1. Finish writing another book. I would argue there was an aggressive rewrite of book two in my series, but that doesn’t count. Been dabbling since.
  2. Continue to work out at least three times a week.
  3. Read 34 books.
  4. Watch Star Wars: A New Hope with my oldest daughter. It’s not that I think four is necessarily old enough, it’s that I just can’t wait any longer.
  5. Attend Books by the Banks as a guest. With my second book slated for publication in May, I am cautiously optimistic. Was not invited. Going to day drink instead.
  6. Finish one new costume for Dragon*Con. Of course I have more than one planned, but I’m being realistic about my sewing follow through.
  7. Run a successful writer’s retreat. After the holidays I plan to hit the ground hard plotting for a writer’s retreat in April at a castle. If that sounds like something you’d be into, you know how to reach me.
  8. Go swimming.
  9. See a play.
  10. See Bethany and Stephen get married!
  11. And my girls are going to be flower girls, so, weep profusely.
  12. See Alex and Christopher get married!
  13. Go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Dreaming big, friends. And I never wanted to leave.
  14. Grow vegetables.
  15. And then eat them.
  16. Blog twice a month. So close I’m counting it.
  17. Sew something for each of my girls. I’ve actually already managed this, but I’m not letting myself completely off the hook.
  18. Write real letters. Volunteers? I have a lot of stickers to compliment my poor handwriting.
  19. See live music.
  20. More candid photographs of my girls with my actual camera.
  21. LARP more. After years of playing I took a break when my littles were very little, but I found time again last autumn and I want to keep it going.
  22. Send Miss E to kindergarten in style with a Schultüte. Her first day of kindergarten sans cone, but she opened it at home and I got a photograph with my proper camera.
  23. Grow my hair out.
  24. Or cut it off if I’m really feeling it. It had to go.
  25. Watch Gilmore Girls in its entirety. I love it now but never watched it while it was on the air, so I am woefully behind.
  26. Knit. I may as well if I am going to be watching television; these hands are so rarely idle.
  27. Finish the quilt that’s languished half-assembled since before I was married.
  28. Discover some new music. Any recommendations?
  29. Visit my dad at least once a month. This hasn’t worked out due to schedules, but we are on really good terms right now.
  30. Endeavor not to fight with him.
  31. Acquire a Stratton compact. While Peggy Carter turned me on to these vintage beauties, I’m not attached to hers unless I get lucky. SCORE.
  32. Read, paint, dance, and dream more with my girls.
  33. Appreciate my husband in word and deed.
  34. Elect a female president. #sorrynotsorry You know what, WE DID. 

I Dream of Cosplay, Again

I told myself I wasn’t allowed to start planning cosplays for next year’s Dragon Con – and I am too broke to buy fabric anyway – but that doesn’t mean I can’t compile a list of dream cosplays that I may lack the time and skill to make, right?

Just run with it.

After this year’s experience with painting my entire face you’d think I’d be turned off by it, but of course pining after a Kyoshi warrior means the application would be even more complex. Alas, I can’t resist a beautiful badass.

Captain America Peggy Carter because, obviously. I may or may not already have bookmarked tutorials on triple victory rolls. I’m not telling.

Maybe it’s the hair. It’s certainly not the shoulder pads. But cosplaying Rachael from Blade Runner at least means I won’t need to wear a wig and don’t need to worry about my weird smile. Because, you know, she doesn’t.

Isn’t this concept art by Enolez Drata amazing?

I’ve been wanting to join the 501st since I first met (and drank with) them many years ago at an Ohio convention, and of course I can’t let myself just make an officer – the easiest way in, though still screen accurate – I have to aim BIG. I loved every little thing about Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, and Kreia turned Darth Traya was no exception. And I’d have a reason to buy a red lightsaber. That’s called winning.

What do you think? If I were going to make one of these dream cosplays happen in the next year, which should it be?

 

Meet Ramona

I’ve been working on something a little different.

And I thought you might like to take a peek.

She’d had the dream again.

Within minutes of waking, Ramona’s hands were pawing over the mess on her bedside table, skimming her glasses, her phone, upsetting two books splayed open, kissing like lovers. Her fingers found the roll of tape she’d left there the night before and she was up, eyes squeezed shut as she moved by touch in the dark to the wall opposite her bed where she’d drawn the map.

Lines drawn in thick, black permanent ink spidered from the window to her bare, aggressively tidy desk. Structures had been meticulously trimmed from a variety of magazines and discarded books and taped against the wall in various places, some labeled, others awaiting identification. Ramona gently peeled one labeled ‘Bazaar’ from the lower left quadrant of the map and placed it several handspans further right, next to another clipping – a squat ruin she’d cut out of a tattered National Geographic – labeled ‘Arena.’ The snap as she tore a new piece of tape was startling in the silence, and only after she’d made the adjustment did she open her eyes and turn on the light.

The harsh fluorescent glow further illuminated the stark, impersonal dormitory: bed pushed against one wall, built in wardrobe and desk opposite, door and window with its navy drape squaring off like combatants. The rug underfoot was cheap and thin, the curtains and bedspread worn but without personality. The wall with its world realized in marker and college scraps was the only thing that felt like it belonged to Ramona, and she’d have to paint over it in less than a week.

She sat down on the edge of her bed without a sound, reaching for her glasses and her phone, checking her face, checking the time.

4:07 AM.

Yesterday it had been nearly 6 AM when the dream woke her.

It wasn’t always the same dream, it just always was. It was the world as she knew it, twisted, the places she recognized warped and peopled by strangers – or not at all.

Dr. Cutter was interested in the dream. It had been she who had first suggested Ramona keep a journal, sketch what she recalled upon waking, as though getting it all out of her head would keep it from coming back. But it didn’t, and the notebook hadn’t been big enough, anyway. So she’d sacrificed the security deposit on this year’s board and started drawing on the walls.

There was the strip where she and her mother and brother had bought groceries and visited the check advance place to borrow against dad’s upcoming pay day, the taquería where between the three of them they’d demolish an easy conquistador’s dozen.

Ramona had layered clipped photos and crude sketches underneath of the main edifice she’d chosen to represent each place on the map, indicating what was different, what was the same. There were some places she frequented often – her high school, the trailer where she’d grown up, her grandma’s house just down the street, the quarry – and others she’d go months without seeing, sometimes whole years – the labyrinthian downtown, the derelict grocery, the sculpture park. In the park there was a bronze statue of a woman in the center of a reflecting pool, her arms raised in invitation. But when Ramona dreamed of her, the gestures were always different and Ramona had noted this, too: arms overhead like a dancer’s, fists clenched against the stiff folds of her robe, arms absent, hacked off or lost like an ancient Roman statue.

Because it really wasn’t one dream, but many. Ramona moved through them each night, pursuing whatever mad trajectories her sleeping mind conjured. Usually, she was alone. But sometimes she was with her brother, Felix.

Felix.

He’d been the reason she’d gone to see Dr. Cutter in the first place, six years ago, in the weeks following his disappearance.

Author SOS

I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how book sales are going, and the honest answer is, I have no idea.

The even more honest answer is, it’s not really about the money.

Folks ask where they should buy the book so I get a better cut, and truly, it doesn’t matter. People want to help and I think that is amazing, but even checking my book out from the library – or requesting that your library order it if it isn’t in the system – would help me out. The best thing you can do for me? If you liked my books, recommend them. Review them. Loan your copy to a friend. If you can’t afford copies but want to read, ask me for one and I’ll loan you mine. Really, really.

Because it’s not about the money right now. it’s about reach.

I wear this necklace when I want to feel brave. Like today.

I will get paid, eventually, but I have no delusions about how much (not much). And while I absolutely believe that writers ought to be compensated well for their work, and that making a living writing is often the end game, that’s not where I am right now. I work full-time and will likely continue to work full-time for the foreseeable future. I like what I do, so I’m okay with it. Writing for a living isn’t something I can dream of until my books are in more hands and heads.

So, if you want me to keep writing and creating, share. Your thoughts, what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you wanted to see more of, what you want to read next. Tell me, and tell the readers that you know. Share your copies with friends and family who you think would like them, too. Review, please, on Amazon and Goodreads.

This is a pretty bold cry from me in response to the love I’ve felt following the publication of my second book. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to ask for help even when I really need it – missed out on a critical life skill there, I know – but this is how you can help me, if you want to help me.

And if you don’t or can’t or forget or won’t, that’s cool, too. No one book is for every person, and we’re still friends.

Campfire Fairy Tales

Memory is a powerful thing, and strange, too, triggered by seemingly inconsequential sounds, smells, feelings.

The smell of a campfire in summer drags me, no longer kicking and screaming, into memories of family tent-camping trips. I hated camping as a kid. My parents always chose the primitive sites for the privacy and I don’t know, the mud, I guess? I would ride my bicycle up the hill at our most frequented camping ground to use the proper bathroom and marvel at the dry grass, the unfiltered sunlight, the showers.

One camping trip, I asked my mom to take this picture for a prettiest eyes contest in Teen Magazine. Because thirteen.

But there were good times despite my need to pee in a tiled environment. My brother and I would hunt for fossils in various creek beds, stifling our disappointment when the dinosaur teeth we found turned out to be horn coral by digging up blue-grey clay, or capturing crawdads. Some years we went to Red River Gorge and went caving, negotiating tight crawl spaces in our shorts and sneakers, straddling shadowy crevices and feeling the gooseflesh rise on our bare legs, not sure if the culprit was a fear of falling or the subterranean chill. We ate our weight in BBQ chips and s’mores, biked everywhere, conjured ridiculous stories in the dark. One particular trip we slept all together in a tent that was so small I now feel my parents ought to be sainted, and my father told us a ghost story with some kind of beastie, reaching out at an opportune moment and clawing at the side of the tent with his fingernails. We shrieked and laughed and slept, eventually.

Even now when I shake the sand out of my daughters’ shoes after they’ve been digging at school, the grit sticks to my fingers and clings to the hairs on my arms, drawing out memories of lakeside picnics and water so murky you never knew what you were getting into. Now I know: it was goose poop and mud.

But ignorance was bliss, and that meant bare feet and cannonballs and not washing my hands as often as I should have done before indulging in the aforementioned chips. Because really, isn’t childhood about impulse? Going and doing and being as on as possible, as often as possible? What do you think?

Better yet, what do you remember?

When Your Oldest is Five and You Are Undone

There are 4×6 photographs of my oldest daughter hanging around my house – in the kitchen where we work together to prepare meals and messes, in the bathroom she shares with her sister, in the hall at the base of the stairs where she and her sister sit to calm down when they’ve thrown a tantrum. These photographs aren’t framed, just taped up, and they’re all from when she was about two years old: before Little Sister was born, and before she began demonstrating so regularly the behaviors that have convinced me she will be the CEO of a continent by 25.

I hung them about a year ago when I needed a reminder that she is small and still learning, to help me remember that her fierceness is sometimes her only response to figuring out the world and herself.

Miss E is a wonder. She manages to be all of the best and worst of me and of her father and still so uniquely herself. Stubborn as mountains and startlingly sweet, at times. Her father was sick recently so I slept in the basement to avoid the contagion, and I heard her come downstairs from her room in the morning and begin to sob. I found her on the couch, crocodile tears fat as diamonds on her cheeks, and as she clutched at me she said, “I thought you were gone.”

We feel such big feelings about and at each other. We anger easily and quickly. Just this week after we’d “disagreed” about how to discipline her throwing toys around when she didn’t get her way, she said something equally impactful.

“Stupid mom.”

I told her, repeatedly, that what she had said had really hurt my feelings. Really, really, really. She began to cry, hard, curling herself up in a ball on the floor. So I held her in the same way she’d held me when, just a few weeks ago, I’d lost my temper with her and put her rather roughly to bed. When I was unkind, when I’d inadvertently taught her just how effective unkindness can sometimes be in curbing the things we don’t like to see in each other.

But she forgave me.

And I forgave her.

And as she says when we have each had time to breathe and try again to be better,

“You will always love me. There’s nothing I could do that would make you not love me.”

It’s true, my girl, forever.

Going (Orion) Green at Dragon Con

I’ve been trying this year to make more conscientious choices, specifically concerning single-use plastics and changing my habits regarding things I know I am going to need/need to do regularly, and as I anticipate another year at Dragon Con, I’ve been thinking about how I can make some more earth-friendly choices while I am there.

Image credited to Dragon Con Media Relations.

An ultra-crowded convention in sweltering downtown Atlanta over a holiday weekend might not seem like the best place for thinking about sustainability, but it’s possible to shrink your footprint – your Trooper print? Furry paw print? Inexplicably spindly anime stiletto print? – with a little forethought and a relatively small – I promise! – commitment. A few things I am planning to do, and encourage you to try:

  1. Plastic water bottles are basically the worst. Even if plastic bottles get recycled – and most of them don’t – we’re still wasting resources to create something that’s used only once. While I absolutely recognize the need to stay hydrated in a suit of Power Armor, there are many reusable water bottles available that are small enough to keep nearby, or on your person if your cosplay allows for it. I hate carrying anything more than I have to, but in recent years I’ve made it a point to make sure every cosplay I choose has some kind of bag or purse – and if I can fit my cell phone, Kindle, and a notebook in there, I’m telling myself there’s room for a 10 or 12 oz. water bottle, too, that I can refill. I just bought this one for $10!
  2. Bring your bag of holding. I am already rubbing my hands together like a cartoon villain thinking of all of the goodies I am going to acquire – Comic & Pop Artist Alley, take my money – but I am not excited thinking about the single-use plastic bags that come with every small purchase. There are many reusable bags that fold up pretty tidily – these are cute as hell and compact – and you can feel good about nestling your treasures in something that won’t just end up in the trash.
  3. I have a coffee problem, but who wants to wait in the line at Starbucks or Caribou, anyway? I make an audible sigh of pleasure after the first sip of coffee, every day. It’s embarrassing, but it’s the truth. Not only am I not interested in waiting in the crazy lines for coffee at the con, I also don’t want to throw away a plastic cup and straw – and I don’t want to carry one of my reusable cups, which aren’t nearly as easy to stow as a water bottle. So, I called ahead to our hotel to see if we could have a fridge in our room and it was easier than I anticipated it would be. Even if we don’t end up getting one, I can keep some half & half on ice and my new favorite beverage can be stored at room temperature. If you’re a hot coffee drinker, pack a mug and enjoy your sweet, sweet caffeine before heading out for the day.
  4. Speaking of straws, skip them if you can. If you’re eating in the food court or sitting down at a restaurant, ask yourself, do you really need a straw? Forego the straw and lid on your takeaway cup and just drink as ye olde cup makers intended. And if you’re wearing makeup, I get it. I’ll be blue, potentially, for two days of the con, but I’m going to have to reapply lipstick and touch up every time I eat, anyway, so is a straw really going to save me much more trouble? Probably not.
  5. Do you really need that business card/post card/sticker? I want all of the free stuff. I do. But inevitably when I get home from a con, I end up tossing most of the swag that I’ve picked up. While I recycle everything that’s paper, if Captain Planet taught me anything, it’s that the first step is to reduce, which means not picking it up in the first place unless I really and truly need it. Snap a picture of a booth you love so you can look it up later. Exchange a text with a new friend rather than swapping cards. As a writer, I’m really struggling with this one because I feel like I ought to have my business card on me, and maybe I will cave and take a handful just in case, but I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I can make an easy digital exchange like in Ready Player One.

There’s a lot out there on making the con-going experience easier on yourself, and I encourage you to make it a little easier on the planet, too.

Top 5 Influential Childhood Reads

Every writer was a reader first. Have I said that before? Probably.

But beyond the logistics of that necessarily needing to be the case, I imagine there are for all of us books we read in our youth that made us love stories, books that through the act of reading unlocked the desire to storytell within us. I’ve often wondered, especially after a rigorous six years of studying literature, what makes some writers pursue genre fiction and others more realistic avenues. I know I have, at least, read and loved books of all kinds, both as a young person and as an adult. But even the more literary short stories I wrote in graduate workshop always had a dreamy element, odd angles and awkward edges that made it harder to get by, to be taken seriously, to make the necessary social and academic connections with my more literal-minded peers.

In thinking about the books that moved me as a child, I wonder, what was it about these that made me the writer that I am, stubbornly, today?

What was it about Meg and Charles Wallace and their world(s) in A Wrinkle in Time that so appealed to me? A Wrinkle in Time is probably the first example of real science fiction that I read as a child. From the lasting image of Mrs. Who explaining traveling by tesseract to the mistaken jaunt to the world whose gravity nearly crushed the group to the haunting sameness of the world where her father was imprisoned, there was realized for me so much potential for strangeness and horror, but with a real heart beating between the turning of pages. I wanted more.

I recently tried to re-read Anne of Green Gables with the intent of getting to my later favorite in the series, Anne of the Island, and I was shocked to learn how little actually happens on the page. I remember Anne as adventurous and bold, dreaming with her and feeling as near to her scrapes as she was. But really, the reader is so much more like Marilla, merely hearing about these wild things that Anne has undertaken off the page. She comes home from a day at school or an afternoon in the fairy grove with Diana and tells Marilla, and be default, the reader, all about it. There’s very little actual doing to be read, and I wonder now if Anne isn’t in part to blame for how close I like to be to my narrators. I want to write each touch and taste of the world and invite the reader to taste and touch, too. Anne remains vibrant as ever despite the narrative choices, which is surely a testament to what a strong and likeable character she is.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins is the first of two orphan stories on this list, and really only one of many I devoured as a child. The quiet strength and resourcefulness of the main character was always a wonder to me as a child, and I loved all of the details about how she navigated her solitude, what she did, ate, made, and built, and how. I haven’t re-read this book as an adult, but I don’t remember her feeling sad or sorry for herself, but rather reckoning with what has happened to her through action – moving forward, rather than dwelling on the past. She was competent and serene and strong, and I wanted to think that I could be just like her, if I had to be.

The main character from The Secret Garden was, conversely, not serene. She had edges and angers that I liked, and a willfulness to take whatever she could from the hand she’d been dealt that greatly appealed to me. Also, there was just something so romantic about an English country house and the idea that a young woman alone could discover and conquer its secrets. I liked that she and the boys challenged and changed each other, and that they could each, in their own way, find happiness.

I also feel like it’s a hallmark of readers of my generation to still look for doors in hedges. Even my husband does it.

My love for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Magician’s Nephew are nearly equal, and I think it’s because they both stretch beyond the boundaries of Narnia as know them in the rest of the books of the series. The memorable fountains as doorways to other worlds in The Magician’s Nephew is such a treat that it’s one of my favorite things lifted into Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and reaching the very edge of the horizon in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and being irrevocably changed by the experience was powerful and wonderful. We weren’t church-going when I was a child and the nearest I came to salvation was someone passing me a coloring sheet outside of a grocery store with a little prayer on it that I could say and “be saved,” so the religious overtures in Lewis’ works were always lost on me. What Lucy and Edmund and Eustace, and Digory and Polly and the others, experience was purely magical and human, and I reveled in it.

What about you? What were the childhood classics that shaped you?

Whose Icon Would You Be?

You might be an icon if you feel feelings. Or if you don’t. But there’s really only one way to find out.

Take the quiz!

I will not tell you how many hours I spent putting this very simple Buzzfeed quiz together, which uses total guesswork science to determine whose icon you would be, if you were an icon. It was worth every minute to not have to cheat to get exactly who I wanted on my first try.

Though I suppose knowing how to answer in advance is the signature definition of cheating.

But, I won’t spoil you provided you promise to tell me who you got.

 

Top 5 Underrated Films

While there are certainly movies among my collection that I consider to be guilty pleasures – Super Mario Bros., I’m looking at you – there are others that I feel are just vastly underrated. I’m not even remotely embarrassed to celebrate my love for these films, and I hope you’re with me – or at the very least, that you’re willing to pop some popcorn and settle in.

The Illusionist came out in the same season as The Prestige, which was unfortunate, because it is a vastly superior piece of storytelling. The Illusionist is atmospheric and lovely, with truly stellar performances by Ed Norton, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell, and Jessica Biel. I’ve never wanted to make out with somebody with a beard more than I do in Ed Norton in this movie. The twist is unexpected but no less real, unlike, in my opinion, the hot mess of no-explanation that was The Prestige‘s climax. It’s a compact, romantic, and deeply satisfying tale.

Time was whenever I was feeling low I would watch Fanboys, and I’m honestly probably due for another viewing. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I celebrate anything that celebrates nerd culture, and this film is unabashedly sweet and generous with its heroes – and lone heroine. I loved Kristen Bell here first, and Sam Huntington, too. It’s a romp and I’m not even sorry about it.

There were a number of moody, dystopian films out for awhile, and Equilibrium takes itself just seriously enough to be a stand out for me. The first time that I saw it my husband and I both marveled at the Gun Kata, which was just silly and spectacular enough to be entertaining. He probably liked it because of math. I just appreciated Christian Bale’s sheer badassery. Also, bonus Sean Bean.

Stranger Than Fiction is my kind of romance, and unlike Ruby Sparks, which I so wanted to love but which made me feel terrible about being a writer and a woman, this story feels real and complicated and ultimately, sweet. Will Ferrell has never been more adorable. Also, Queen Latifah and Emma Thompson. Come on.

When I recently learned that they’re likely abandoning Tron Legacy and rebooting the franchise, again, I was so disappointed. I love the nostalgia of this installment but also everything about it that feels slick and fresh – including Jeff Bridges’ The Dude inspired performance of Flynn. And the music, my goodness, the music.

What about you? Any dark horse favorites?