Two Trick Pony

It seems foolish to dream for years (and years and years) about becoming a published author only to have pretty serious impostor syndrome once it finally happens. Despite continuing to write and being under contract to deliver the sequel to The Hidden Icon, I’ve felt with only one book under my publishing belt like a one trick pony.

But today, I guess, I can do flips and kicks. Can jump fences and braid my own mane? I don’t know. What sorts of tricks do ponies do? I’d probably honestly be the sort that just munches oats and lazes about.

While The Dread Goddess has been cropping up on shelves the last few days, it is now officially out in the world. You can buy it. You can read it. You can worry the pages thin, or use them for découpage projects if you don’t like how I’ve handled something. I’m thrilled to share it with you, and to continue Eiren’s story.

I do hope you like it. I loved writing it.

For my Mother, on Mother’s Day

I remember visiting you when you worked at the Brass Elephant on Sanibel Island, when we lived in Ft. Myers, Florida. I was five or six years old, and the cool, dark atmosphere with gilded interiors was like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Had I seen that yet? Probably not. But within a few years, the two would be joined in my mind as mystical and glamorous places which required a supervising adult.

My brother and I sat in a booth and I ran my hands over the plush seat. I felt so special, like I was being let in on a secret. This was a place for grown ups. For royalty. For soft voices and good smells. I thought that you were beautiful and it was fitting that you got to go every day to a beautiful place.

Someone surprised you with this photo. Probably dad. I have always really liked it.

But you were strong, too, and you taught me to be strong. There was a girl in the first grade (or the second grade, maybe) when I was in kindergarten, and she lived nearby and picked on me on the bus ride to and from school each day. While I cannot even imagine now how I would handle a similar situation with one of my own daughters – though I suppose I had better prepare myself – you and dad both told me to stand up for myself. This was before positive parenting was a thing and a time when nerds were celebrated for being gutsy, so.

We did something special in school for the 1988 Olympics – I remember the crafts and activities outside, and coloring rings to take home with me. It was a good day but this girl, I don’t think she had good days. I don’t recall now even what she did to me and maybe it was the same old stuff, but when we both got off of the bus, I thought about what you’d said and how unfair she was being, how mean, and I punched her right in the nose and she ran home crying.

To her mom.

You came to the door of our apartment when her mom came over to yell about what I had done. You told her that you wouldn’t be punishing me for standing up for myself, and that her daughter had it coming. I remember feeling excited and anxious and a little guilty all at the same time. She’s still the only person I’ve ever struck in anger that’s not my brother, who I really ought to apologize to for whacking with so many television remotes and platform sneakers.

But you and dad liked to tell that story for years afterward, how much younger and smaller than the girl I was, but how I’d just finally had it with being pushed around. You were only 25 or 26 at the time, which is wild to me, and yet you were fierce, always, when it came to your children. When you two told the story I felt you had as much of a role as I did, how I wanted to be sure that it wasn’t just me standing up for me, but you standing up for me, too.

That’s what I remember, the love and guts of it.

I love you, mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

Author Confessions

There are some things I feel I need to admit to you.

  1. I used to believe a first draft was a final draft. I applauded myself for the fact that I didn’t revise, that my writing was somehow instinctual or, and I shudder, visceral. I skated through workshops in college under this assumption and now I am so very ashamed. My books? You don’t even want to know how aggressively edited they are. I could edit them forever.
  2. I have no patience for epigraphs. I get why they are there but find them unbearably pretentious and always skip them when I’m reading. I’m the worst.
  3. I work so much better under a deadline. Or maybe it’s just easier to explain to my family why they really must leave me alone for weeks at a time when I can attach a number to my plea.
  4. I blame my excessive narration problems on the fact that I used to be super active in the journal-based RP community. Mostly Harry Potter. It was considered poor form to respond with just one sentence or two, and I know my habit of overthinking every word and gesture is a result of basically creating characters through dialogue exchanges. Also, I miss having the time for this desperately.
  5. I crave commercial success. I want to nerd out over readers and meet them at book signings and gush over fan art. I write because I can’t not write and it satisfies a deep, creative need in me to build worlds and breathe life into new characters. But I also dream of being a career author, however distant or unattainable that might be. I want to be taken seriously enough to engage with authors I admire as a peer. I’ve been to a few readings and signings within the last few years, both in front of the audience and in it, and I know where I prefer to be. It shouldn’t matter. But it does.

I told you I was the worst.

You’re a Wizard, Harry

I traveled to Orlando in February for work and I absolutely took advantage of being down there to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. And my goodness, friends, it will not be the last.

As a teenager, I remember thinking that I wasn’t quite sure I bought into the idea of an afterlife, but if there was a heaven, it would for me be the ability to pass in and out of the innumerable fictional worlds that I loved. I still feel like this would be a pretty boss way to spend the life eternal, however unlikely it is.

But, at least I will die someday having spent time in Diagon Alley. Everything I read before our trip stressed that the meticulous and loving attention to detail in the parks is what makes them so special, and I couldn’t agree more. I wandered and wondered, making time to see (almost) everything. Rowling’s world as imagined in the films is so faithfully recreated I just sat down at one point, nursing an ice cream cone from Florean Fortescue’s and soaking it in. Every shop front was spectacularly eccentric, and once inside, most shops took advantage of high ceilings to extend the world building above patrons’ heads. I was liberal in my abuse of Instagram’s Boomerang feature, capturing parts of the rotations of various animatronics throughout the park.

I patiently waited my turn behind children to cast spells with the ivy wand that chose me – YEAH THAT HAPPENED – my favorite being the slightly sinister chuckles granted by the spells particular to Knockturn Alley.

I rode Escape from Gringott’s and The Forbidden Journey several times each, and the theming while we waited in line was just as delightful and immersive as the rides themselves. I love a good roller coaster, and dark rides are especially lovely for suspending disbelief. By the time I got over to Hogsmeade I was alone, so I didn’t even get to see most of the cool stuff in Hogwarts Castle – good thing I’m going back next year.

I’m not even sure that I can choose a favorite thing to see or do, but I will say that the wand choosing ceremony is a must – I only got to participate because it was just us when we went there right as the park opened, and I went again later to watch another, more appropriately aged individual brought up. My wand was also the only thing that I bought myself, and worth every penny galleon. Wandering the parks casting spells – and finding the secret ones! – is an unparalleled treat. Ollivander’s is honestly probably the most magical shop, though Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is a very close second. I also loved the puppet show in Diagon Alley, and the ride on the Hogwarts Express was incredibly charming – and surprisingly intimate.

Have you been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios? What did you love?

 

Author Life Month? Author Every Month.

The author’s photo a day challenge I am participating in on Instagram this month is absolutely sustaining me. It only feels fitting to be sharing it with you at the tail end of Valentine’s Day, as every new day feels like I’m adding a line to a love letter addressed to readers, to Eiren’s world, to the craft of writing. I’ve always had good intentions when it comes to photo a day challenges but have previously lacked follow through. Not so this February.

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The prompt for this one was “killed darlings,” and this was one of oh-so-many I had to choose from. I always write more pretty things of little substance than I need.

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And “where I write,” which I’ve elaborated on before. But I felt this one showed some love to the stickers so rarely seen on the back of my laptop.

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These two were each collages of character inspirations, for Eiren and Gannet, respectively. You can read more on the original posts.

If you aren’t already following me on Instagram, please do. It’s the rare social media haven I can haunt on the regular right now – I feel rather guilty for my prolonged absence from Twitter and Facebook, longer even than was required for the heady rush of editing that consumed my January, and resulted in one of the strongest drafts I think I’ve ever written. Come May, I hope you think so, too.

The challenge carries on through the end of February and I think I’ll be looking for another one after. Any recommendations?

Adventures in Sustainability

One of my new year’s resolutions was to be more intentional about conserving energy, reducing the amount of waste that I create, and making better choices regarding my impact on the environment. While I’ve gotten into a pretty good habit in recent years of bringing reusable bags into stores and using cloth napkins at home, I’ve been wanting to do more. I truly believe that the seemingly small, individual choices that we make matter, especially when we live in a highly consumer-driven culture. How and where I choose to spend my money matters, and it matters even more when I’m not the only one motivated.

Captain Planet and the Planeteers

I grew up on this. No surprises there.

On a scale of easy to pretty damn easy, here are a few practices I’ve adopted in 2017.

  1. I bought two super cute reusable travel cups. I drink iced coffee every morning – and sometimes in the afternoon, too. And because I frequently pick it up on my way into work, I wanted to cut back on the number of plastic cups I was throwing away each day. I got two so if I don’t run the dishwasher, there’s another cup clean for the next morning.
  2. I replaced my toothbrush with one that was made from recycled #5 plastic, and can be recycled in turn. Excepting the bristles, of course. I’ll also be investing in these for my kids and my husband when it’s time to replace theirs.
  3. I bought a menstrual cup to replace the pads and tampons I was going through every month. I won’t go into great detail for squeamish readers, including my husband, but I’ll say I should’ve done this a long time ago. I am nerding out so hard about how much I love it.
  4. I invested in reusable snack and sandwich bags and a set of stretchy, silicone lids to replace plastic wrap. Throwing away these items has been a regrettable but ultimately avoidable part of keeping house as an adult. Stoked about these alternatives, though. And they’re cute, which is a big motivator for me.
  5. I reset my thermostat. After researching some optimal temperatures online, I am keeping the house a little cooler than I would have in previous winters (even given the unseasonably mild January we’ve had). I know that this is going to be a lot harder for me come summer time when I don’t get to crank up the AC like I like to, but as I’m freezing out my husband some nights right now, I think I’ll owe him.
  6. I scheduled a free energy assessment of our home with our local utilities provider. Our house was built in 1946 and there are rooms that don’t heat or cool as well as others – it’s my hope there are some things we can do to make our home more energy efficient, and if I need to start saving to address some of the repairs that may necessary, I’m hopeful that I can do that, too.
  7. I offered to begin recycling plastics for my office. The office where I work doesn’t have recycling pick up, and while staff regularly volunteer to collect and drop off aluminum cans, we haven’t had a way to recycle plastics since I began working there. When I discovered there was a Gimme 5 recycling drop-off location convenient to me, I decided I could add my office’s plastics to the ones my family and I are already recycling.

And there’s something I haven’t added to this list yet, because I need to bite the bullet and just make it happen. Thanks to a motivated and an awesome friend I discovered that my bank is funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, so as soon as I can take the time I need to open a checking account with a local credit union and withdraw my money and close my existing account, I’m going to do it. This won’t be easy – the app that I use for my banking is slick and intuitive and I like it. I’ll have to change my direct deposit, and I have a number of accounts set up to automatically pay bills that I’ll have to take the time to update, too. But, though it may not be much, my money talks. And if it’s going to be used for something, I’d rather it were used to bolster investments in cleaner, alternative forms of energy that aren’t having a detrimental impact on the environment.

While I can’t solve all of the world’s problems, I can make choices that will hopefully shape policies and create consumer demand for a world that my children and my grandchildren and my great grandchildren will want to live in. I don’t have to buy into the system because it’s the only one, or the easiest one, there is. Because I have the hours and the dollars to spare, I have the privilege to decide how I spend them.

ETA: I’ve since opened an account with my credit union and updated my direct deposit. I shared about it on social and my plans to quit PNC, and within a week, I’d received a courtesy call about banking with them. This has never happened in all of my years with the bank, and a friend who also left PNC also received a call. So, they’re watching. They’re listening. It matters.

Five Favorite Reads of 2016

I’m not gonna lie, I really killed it in 2016. I always make time for reading, but as a working, writing, mothering adult I don’t usually manage quite so many books. There was a fair amount of escapist reading in there, but I’m still absurdly pleased.

Even if it makes picking five favorites rather more of a challenge this year than in previous years.

The Forbidden WishJessica Khoury’s The Forbidden Wish was a clear winner for me for 2016, though. I listened to it on audiobook first, and then I read it, and then I listened to it again. It has everything I need to absolutely lose myself in a book: a genuinely complex heroine, the supernatural, a rogueish romantic interest, and just enough authentic drama to keep me up at night – and mooning over the story the next day. If you read even one book I recommend this year, it should be this one.

Not surprisingly, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were flawless – and I told her so and she tweeted back to me so THAT HAPPENED. Bardugo is a national treasure. Each tremendously gripping and masterfully-crafted in their own right, they hung together in all of the right places and diverged in surprising, delightful ways. I do not typically enjoy books that switch perspectives, but her pacing was spectacular and I cared so much about everyone that I was all too willing to follow her characters anywhere.

Vassa in the Night

Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night was a grim, glorious little surprise. I’d read a review that said if you liked weird, you’d like this book, and do I love some weird. But there’s more to it, even, than that. Reminiscent of Kelly Link but with more to hold on to and a far greater investment in the lives of the characters she’s tormenting, I took my time with this one, savoring the strangeness of the world and the hot-beating heart at the center of it.

I read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians a few years ago, and Quentin Coldwater was such a selfish prick I almost didn’t finish the series. While I get he had some growing up to do, I found it so stifling to be limited to his perspective and spent most of the book wanting to throttle him. The Magician King, with Julia’s voice, was a breath of fresh air, and Quentin’s growing maturity was dynamic and believable. The Magician’s Land knocked my socks off, and I am so glad I gave the series another chance.

The Forgetting

The world-building in Sharon Cameron’s The Forgetting was inventive and unique, and I was bound to love a book where writing one’s own story played so central a role. I really enjoyed the narrator and the detail that was put into her culture, and the direction the story took was surprising. I appreciate when books aren’t what I expect, and books that remind me of some of my favorite episodes of Star Trek.

What did you read this year? What did you love?

On New Year’s Eve

During my brief stint as an adjunct professor, I would often preface activities I knew my students were unlikely to enjoy with commiseration: it sucks, I get it, we’ll get through it together. It wasn’t until I taught for a summer reading enrichment program a few years later that I realized my approach was flawed.

Happy New Year

It was one of the hardest summers of my life. I was very pregnant (Little Sister was born in September) and on my feet all day. The days were long with minimal time to catch my breath between groups of preschoolers, elementary school kids, middleschoolers, and high school students and adults in the evenings. But it was a pretty incredible summer, too. I don’t think I ever felt more empowered as a teacher, nor felt like I had made such an impact.

One of the lessons that has stuck with me since that summer is attempting to frame hard work in a positive way. Yes, it might suck, but as the person in charge, I don’t have to say that. What I can say is what we’re all going to get out of it, how it’s going to be helpful, how it’s going to make us better. Those are the things that I can say out loud to assert some modicum of control over how we’re going to internalize it.

And now I’m in charge of me, and my experiences. Not only how I live, but how I talk about my life.

2016 was hard, but it was a really good year, too.  This morning I joined a dear friend for a Zumba class we both laughed and flailed inarticulately through, and after an awkward fifty minutes, we cooled down to Prince’s Purple Rain. Sweat was in my eyes, and a few tears, too. I stretched my sore muscles. It was absurdly tranquil. It felt like saying goodbye and hello at the same time.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2017, and I have strong friends and allies who will help me work, fight, and celebrate. I know I have to work daily to control my own negativity bias, and to be a force for positivity in the lives of others.

I need to focus on what I can do, and do what I can.

On Christmas Eve

My girls woke me this morning, both of them clamoring at the side of my bed, touching my hands, my face, tugging at what scraps of blanket my husband didn’t steal. Little Sister had spent her second night in her big girl bed, and she didn’t get out of bed “even one time,” according to Miss E. But now they are up. They are ready. They are hungry. It’s Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve

We made pancakes together while listening to holiday music. After a little while, their daddy roused, entering the kitchen holding two dolls that had been deposited in bed to keep him company.

“I woke up with these two, but I swear, it didn’t mean anything,” he insisted.

I snorted. My girls were oblivious.

While we made banana faces on each pancake and sprinkled them with powdered sugar snow, two delivery men arrived with a new mattress and box spring to replace the broken one we have been sleeping on for more than a year, the mattress that dips in all of the places my body did when carrying first one baby, and then another. I am not sorry to see it go. My legs and belly and hips are changed enough that even my sentimentality will not miss a ruined mattress.

The delivery men commented on how good breakfast smelled, but because my husband thinks giving them pancakes might be weird, I boxed up some cookies instead. Miss E waited patiently to hand them over, returned to her plate once she had done.

“I gave him the cookies and said ‘Merry Christmas’ and he smiled,” she said, mirroring the expression. “I’m a nice girl.”

I want to say, “Sometimes.”

But I don’t.

The day passed quickly after that, with errands and tidying up and naps and meals. I made sure to write what mattered to me in my journal, to remember to be grateful for what I have, to remember that there are good things, sweet, sincere, worthy little things. But even so when we each opened a present before bundling into the car to look at Christmas lights, when we clutched travel cups of homemade hot cocoa, when Little Sister was as agreeable as ever and Miss E dawdled and complained and finally relented, I felt the nag of anxiety.

“I wish my heart didn’t feel so heavy,” I told my husband. I have told him this before, with different words. I have been telling him this a lot lately.

There have been hard days in the past. Months. Sometimes more. Knowing it’s temporary doesn’t make it any easier in the moment, and neither does the guilt I feel in not being completely present, in feeling like I am wasting beautiful moments by not being able to truly give in to them. Still, I read this tonight and I am heartened. Because it is in my nature to feel first and write soon after I am here now, sitting beside my Christmas tree. There are too many presents underneath but because I am not supposed to feel sorry about yet more things I am trying not to.

The light is steady.

The light is warm.

The light is mine, and it is my children and in my children, in the love I feel for my husband. It shows us who and how we are, roots us in what we can do together, for each other, for others. I am frightened and I am sad but I am not undone.

I am daily remaking.

It is Christmas Eve and what I have and hope for myself I hope for you, too.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Sithmas

Am I writing all of these posts just for the puns? Maybe.

Today we’re visiting one of my favorite fictional worlds, which I believe could use a little cheer after its latest installment. Which isn’t to say I didn’t love Rogue One, it’s just, my heart resembles something like a crushed up candy cane after seeing it.

I have to admit that I’ve never actually seen the real Star Wars Holiday Special. It was before my time, though with the internet I suppose there’s no real excuse. I still think, based on what I’ve read, that I prefer this one.

And another for laughs. This isn’t the worst Christmas song ever – I reserve that accolade for anything by The Carpenters and this melancholy number – but it’s close.