Happy Christmas from the Internet

I promised I would begin sharing silliness yesterday, but if I can’t break arbitrary promises on the internet, where can I?

There’s considerable nostalgia at Christmastime, and it makes sense. It’s a magical time of year for the youngest of us, and while I do believe it’s possible to make very merry as a grown-up, I remember the holidays of my youth with a ruby glow, Making liberally glue-sticked and cotton-balled construction paper Christmas decorations with my brother, helping my mom string lights inside the house and my father out, obsessing over the TV guide and when the classic holiday specials would be on television, drinking hot cocoa on Christmas Eve and driving around looking at lights. We still do this last with our children. And perhaps when they’ve grown up a bit, they’ll keep themselves up too, too late singing Christmas carols in bed, as my brother and I did, waiting for Santa Claus.

Love this imagining of a favorite classic from Tom Whalen.

Love this imagining of a favorite classic from Tom Whalen.

I’ve had some sweet moments as an adult, too. One year my husband, then-boyfriend, surprised me with Nenya, and my excitement certainly approached that of the engagement ring he slipped onto my finger a few years later. The year after we were married I obsessively tried to acquire a hodge podge of bride’s tree ornaments. I made stockings for the two of us and one each from the same pattern for our girls when they arrived. We’ve watched them grow into the wonder of the season, and anticipate many years of fun to come. I believed in Santa Claus until i was nine, and I had to be told that he wasn’t real. Either my parents were really, really good, or my imagination just wasn’t ready to let go. I expect a little bit of both.

And as my community of friends and the source of some of my joys has grown online as well as off, there are some digital delights I revel in each year, such that it doesn’t even feel like Christmas, really, until I have. So I thought I would share them with you here. They’re not going to change your life, but they might make you smile. And this year, I know I need that more than ever.

Enough with the preamble. I’m giving you two treats today, because I failed you yesterday.

    1.  Every year that I can remember as a child we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the past few years we’ve watched it with our daughters, too. This year my youngest asserts that every piano solo is “Charlie Brown.” But what I don’t watch with them I certainly giggle to myself over, and that’s this classic performed by the cast from Scrubs. Probably only funny if you watched this show and wanted for a hot minute to be one of the cool kids a doctor, but still.
    2. I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation. So this gets me every year.

‘Tis the Season

In no particular order, here are some things that I would like for Christmas.

Star Wars Carolers

Please read a book. Let me know which one and I’ll try to read it, too. Then we can talk about it, maybe over coffee? But please don’t make me leave my house. It’s cold outside and I like my jammies.

Something you’ve made. We can trade – I write a mean short-short story. Or, at least a mildly amusing one. Shall I eviscerate someone in fiction for you?

A mid-afternoon .gif war. I’m most in need of stimulation around 2:00 PM, but as napping at work is definitely out, something to keep my neurons firing would be most appreciated.

An honest review of my work. Here’s a little secret: this writer would rather you shared my books than buy them. I mean, buying is excellent, but if I had to choose between the cup of coffee I can buy with my share of the royalties versus the priceless word of mouth recommendation, I know which one I would prefer. I’ve even got a few copies of my books floating about that I’d be willing to provide for your reading pleasure.

A book recommendation. These are surprisingly challenging to come by, or they’re too general and don’t feel like they’re really for me. I am diligent about what I like, though. Maybe we like some of the same things?

I’ve got some early gifts for you, too. Beginning this coming Sunday, December 18, I’ll be counting down to Christmas with the seven silliest and best things about celebrating in the age of the internet. I’m as nostalgic as the next person for the holidays of my youth, but there’s plenty to appreciate about being able to connect with fellow twinkling-light obsessed nerds at the speed of a tweet. If you don’t want to have to check back here for frivolity, sign up for my email newsletter and nerd out at your leisure in your inbox.

Under the Covers

My second book has a publication date, a title, and now it has a cover – along with a matching refresh of the first book which will be re-released in paperback at the same time. I haven’t been belting it from the rooftops because I am wildly superstitious. If I celebrate too soon, it won’t actually happen, right?

But, it is happening, so I’m going to make a little noise.

Here’s this first lovely little mystery. I feel so lucky to have seen my first book baby realized in not just one but three separate covers, and this one has a sweeping depth to it that I really love. I also had the opportunity I am sure far more deserving writers have dreamed of: to revisit a few sticky places in the story and make small but mighty edits to a book that was first published three years ago.

The Hidden Icon

I want to go to there.

And here, too.

The Dread Goddess

The Dread Goddess follows Eiren in her flight from Jhosch, from Gannet, and from herself as she attempts to reconcile who she knows she is – a gentle-souled storyteller – with the monstrous dread goddess who dwells within her. There’s more of her world, more stories, identities literally and figuratively unmasked, madness and havoc and kissing. I am extremely excited about continuing her story and I hope that you are, too.

And I won’t be sitting on my hands until their publication on May 30 of next year – I’ll be working on the third and final book, partnering with the spectacular Nita Basu of Diversion Books on some promotional fun times, and blogging and reading and mothering and dreaming. If there’s something I can do for you or questions I can answer about how I am not going slowly insane managing all of these things, you know how to reach me.

On Being Good, Being Kind

Current State My husband and I watched Kubo and the Two Strings last night and it was breathtakingly lovely. Near the end, for no specific reason that I can point to, I began to think about dying. Not the abstract certainty that yes, I’ll die some day because we all do, or the deep mourning I have felt when someone close to me or to my family has died, or the fear that comes on me when my children are too quiet or absent too long or running high fevers in the middle of the night. Deeper, darker, realer than that.

Being dead.

Going to sleep and never waking again dead.

Getting in my car and crashing into someone or something, feeling it roll over and over and over me dead.

Just, ceasing to be.

I had my head on my husband’s chest, felt his shifting muscles, his beating heart, my own seize up and tighten, tighter, as I imagined not being. Even now I can’t even capture the terror that gripped me. That I am, now, that I live and breathe and dream, now, and someday I won’t anything. One day I’ll be gone, and I might not even know that I’m gone because I’ll just. Be. Gone.

I don’t prescribe to any particular faith. I never have, and perhaps I never will. A very good friend of mine recently told me of how she prays during times of uncertainty and trouble, how she’s learned to recognize the answers to her prayers in herself, in others, in the world. It sounded to me like a pleasant dream I’m not sharing, a guidance I sorely lack but don’t even know how to begin to crave. I have always been firmly agnostic, though I feel it’s one of those things that lacks firmness. I’m not sure what’s out there, what’s after, what came before, but I’m not ready to say there’s nothing.

Neither am I ready to say there’s something.

The movie ended and I sat up and when he started to talk to me about how he felt about it, I started to talk, too, and my mouth just hung open. I started to cry. Harder. And then I couldn’t breathe, and my heart felt slow and fast at the same time.

“I’m scared,” I told him. “It’s scary.”

I’ve not had a panic attack of this magnitude since college, and I’ve never contended with my own mortality in so visceral a way. But I’ll tell you what’s the same between this response and the crippling anxiety I experienced as an undergraduate: stress and lack of control. At 23, I was so overwhelmed by my course load, my job, my family, and my aspirations that I quit two of those things and sought counseling. Eleven years later, I have the presence of mind to know that this is just a moment in time, and eventually I’ll feel better. Unfortunately, my scope of worry is now so much bigger.

I feel maddeningly powerless about a number of things right now, but I’m painfully Type A, guilt-ridden, and suffer an unreasonable sense of duty that urges me to continue to try anyway. To throw myself against the wall until it breaks or I do. I look at what’s in my life and tell myself I can’t quit anything, but that’s not really true. I can and I must, because it’s pretty clear to me I can’t keep on like I have been. I don’t have any more to give to stress and fear and uncertainty and speculation. I need to focus on what I can do: raise strong girls. Elevate the stories, amplify the voices, and share the incredible transformations in schools and communities through my work. Love my husband and my friends. Tell my own stories, not to escape the world I am living in, but to put magic into it.  I can’t be sorry but I already am.

I need to believe that this is enough.

This is plenty.

This is good.

 

Where I Write

I am not one of those who prescribes to the notion of a writing sanctuary. While this doesn’t mean I don’t lust for a She Shed of my very own, it does mean I can’t let something like place determine my capacity and commitment to write.

Some of my favorite places for word craft?

  1. Doctor’s offices.
  2. In the car with a little one napping in the backseat.
  3. Meetings where my presence is not really necessary but is required.
  4. Coffee houses… really any, but I have a few favorites.
  5. My writing desk.

I have listed my writing desk last because it really is the one place where I do not spontaneously write – and thus the writing that happens there is the writing that feels the most like work.

img_9867

Because it is work, and sometimes a change of scenery, or an unexpected moment seized for creation rather than tedium, is all the motivation that I need.

But, my desk.

I write there, a lot. It’s a place of seriousness, of getting down to business, of meeting deadlines. I am lately interested in what I can do to make it a worthier space. I bought it a few years ago off of Craigslist after searching for “antique school desk,” and my dad refinished it for me. The top is still pocked with the vigorous efforts of some kid working to dismantle it a compass point at a time. The drawer is often stuffed full of drawings from my daughters, rogue colored pencils, beads, buttons, receipts for things I think I am going to return to the store but never actually do, and handwritten notes to myself about things that I am writing or want to write.

I leave it relatively bare, because I haven’t wanted distraction. There’s a jar of dice and a ceramic pencil cup filled with dry erase markers for my Pathfinder game, and I recently purchased a tiny, weighty iron owl who is meant to hold place cards but instead holds my gaze when my mind is wandering. It’s cozied up next to a functional fire place that is nevertheless rarely lit, and whose mantle is stuffed full of novels.

I have a lamp because warm light is essential, and an uncurtained window because soft, blue daylight is beautiful, too. There’s a print of a paper cut tree hanging on the wall. Sometimes there are dozens of post-its, usually not. It’s a good space: clean, comfortable, nook-like. I grew up in a bedroom that was probably the size of your closet, writing in bed with a spiral bound notebook balanced on my knees because there wasn’t room for any other furniture. So I like small. The less room there is for my body the more there is for my mind, right?

What about you? What are your creative spaces like?

Dear Friend, Dear Dreamer

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a rough week. I’ve cried, a lot. I’ve raged, equally as much. But I have babies to raise and books to write and we all have work to do to build a world that’s worthy of what we’re putting into it, so I’m making a rope of words to climb out of this pit of despair.

Beginning with delivering on my promise to write more letters. I walked with a sympathetic co-worker to the library today, and in addition to joining their friends program for folks who believe in and support their work, I picked up a handful of cards in the library gift shop to mail to gals I know who are also grieving.

Cards

Now, more than ever, tiny, active gestures of kindness and compassion seem to me the greatest gift we can give each other. Before we can mobilize, we need to heal. And after the deluge of political propaganda in my inbox and my mailbox, I know that I would welcome something real.

So even if you aren’t receiving a letter from me – which you totally could, you know how to reach me – I have one for you.

Dear friend, dear dreamer, dear doer and maker and believer and reader,

I appreciate and recognize you. I may not really know you, may not always understand you, but I believe that you are moved as I am by what is in your heart and in your head. You have the capacity to love and to give and to grow, and I hope that you do. We may never hold hands, never really, and perhaps never on all of our ideas, either, but we share a space, a city, a state, a nation; we are small but our world is not. I trust you to remember this.

If you’re not ready, I want to help you. And if you’re not ready for help, I am good at waiting. There is a lot to do and I can’t be still, not when there is risk, when there is opportunity, when there is work for open hands and willing ears. Because nothing is simple, least of all being really and truly heard.

But I hear you.

Or I will try to.

With hope and in love,

Jillian

ETA: You should know I wrote this in the afternoon, and on my walk home to my car from work I was hit by a car. Is that as ridiculous to read as it was to write? Because it happened. I was crossing the street and the driver wasn’t going terribly fast, but it definitely hurt and I called the police because I was giddy with shock.

The driver kept meeting my eyes, his own face ghost-pale, and saying how sorry he was, how sorry he was. I took his hand. I clapped him on the shoulder. I told him it’s been a terrible week, and shit happens, and I was probably fine. I asked his name. I gave him mine. It was a desperate, ridiculous, gut-wringing human moment.

I’m fine, I really feel that I am.

And I just keep hoping that he’s okay, too.

Because that’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Because I believe it’s possible to be concerned for yourself and for others.

Because I am just not going to let anything stop me.

 

Cosplay Dreams for 2017

The weeks and months immediately following Dragon*Con are the very best for plotting for next year’s Dragon*Con, and this year I’ve been busier than ever.

Dottie WilliamsI’ve doubled down on my commitment to cosplay Dottie next year, as I absolutely owe it to my best friend. And, our mutual friend expressed some interest in joining us as Mac, so, winning.

And we’ve agreed together to try for Arwen and Elrond, which is the cosplay we never knew we wanted to do until we so did. I’ve had the pattern for one of Arwen’s dresses for more than 10 years, and thank goodness multiple sizes are included because, ahem, I am a bit more than the woman I used to be.

The minute I doffed the red hat I was ready to be Peggy Carter again, and to expand my wardrobe. I purchased an Eisenhower jacket on eBay so that I could put together her ensemble during the scenes where Steve Rogers commits to Project Rebirth. The bonus of this get-up, of course, being that I get to sport some victory rolls.Arwen

Finally (for now), my nerd-excitement over a Duckie sightingat this last con is shared by many, and a whole crew of folks are now planning to cosplay characters from a variety of John Hughes movies. After about a seven second deliberation, I decided I couldn’t cosplay a teenager, not even a 20-something pretending to be a teenager, so I settled on Iona from Pretty in Pink. Let the wild but intentional thrifting begin.

While there’s still a part of me that’s desperate to try my hand at Sabriel or Aeryn Sun, I think this is enough to be getting on with?

Meet Me at CONjuration

I didn’t anticipate returning to Atlanta until next year’s Dragon Con, so I was surprised and delighted when I received a last-minute invitation to CONjuration, a fan-driven convention celebrating all things Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and other magical literature, movies, and experiences. It’s being held November 4 – 6 at the Marriot Century Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

I wonder if we'll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I wonder if we’ll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I’ve scrambled to acquire more copies of The Hidden Icon and also to assemble chapbooks of The Two Sisters to disseminate. I am positively stoked to be sharing a table in the vendor hall – aptly named Diagon Alley – with Lee Martindale, and trying to figure how many goodies I can squeeze into my suitcase along with clothes and a Yule Ball gown. Priorities, friends.

I’ll also be on a few panels.

  • Saturday, 4:00 PM, Tail and Tongue: Don’ t Step on the Worms – Grima Wormtongue and Peter (Wormtail) Pettigrew both get a bad rap. Yes, they were pawns of their evil lords. Yes, they betrayed their own kind. Could they really help it or were they victims, too? Did their deaths give them any redemption or did they just confirm their roles as tragic characters and tools cast aside by their masters?
  • Saturday, 6:00 PM, Stranger Things: The Magical Influences – Drawing from such influences as Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien, Magic: the Gathering, Stephen King, and the movies made by Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg, the supernatural, enchanted elements of Stranger Things fairly drip from the screen! The series’ surreal atmosphere is propelled forward by humanity’s lack of understanding of the paranormal. The unknown science is magic!

In addition to some seriously cool programming – really, I don’t know how much I’ll be willing to stay at my vendor table because everything looks so fun – there are opportunities to win House points, live performances, and of course, a Yule Ball. I am also over the moon excited to meet Juliet Marillier, who will be launching and signing her latest book at the event, and whose writing has been influencing and inspiring me for more than a decade.

So, if you’re in the Atlanta area, I don’t think you’ll want to miss this, and I won’t want to miss you.

Books are Forever

ShelfieWhile I love me some libraries, I’m also thrilled to finally be in a financial position as an adult and grown ass woman to buy books (almost) whenever I feel like it. For Christmas this past year my husband gave me a year-long membership to one of my favorite local booksellers, and I began working within a block of another. And if I was going to take advantage of the discount at the first, I really ought to grab a coffee and a paperback on my lunch break at the second.

Filling the shelves – and the mantle – of my new home with novels that lack the used college bookstore sticker on the spine has been an absolute treat.

It used to be I would only buy books I knew that I loved, and even those, rarely in hardcover. There’s a book festival in Cincinnati where I’ve been caught up in the happy moment of chatting with an author and purchased an unread story, because it makes everybody feel good, and leads sometimes to beloved friendships.

This year I have bought more books than ever, and while I’ve certainly loved some of my acquisitions less than others, I’m keeping all of them. When my girls are grown I want what I wanted as a child: a room full of books and books in every room. My parents weren’t readers, but they went out of their way to be sure that I was. They provided me that early and everlasting love of libraries – I’d be warned when I started reading books in the car on the way home from our local branch that it would be a whole week before I would have new ones – and a handful of yard sale-acquired paperbacks you can still find peeking out from in between weightier tomes on my shelves.

I was a reader well before I was a writer, and when I am a mad, half-blind old woman raving about the way paper books used to smell, I expect I will demand that one of my great-great grandchildren read me the latest Margaret Atwood.

A few years ago I vowed to buy an eBook for every overpriced cup of coffee I bought, but I was pretty broke that year and am also desperately addicted to coffee. I didn’t commit. But, I am trying to make up for it. One of my 34 in 34 goals is to read as many books, and ideally, I ought to own them. I suppose I’d like you to think, too, about how you could bring more words into your life. Please read, and please talk to me about what you’re reading. Show me what it looks like on your digital and literal shelves. Because you’re not just pumping blood into an author’s heart and vital air into their lungs, you’re bringing friends into your home. Adventure. Whimsy. Gravity.

Clothes and coffee are temporary treasures. Books are forever.

34 in 34

I just celebrated a birthday, and I decided that in my 34th year, if only makes sense to combine my love of lists with my love of ambition. In no particular order, here are 34 things I hope to do while I’m 34.

I might need your help.

I will not be making one of these lists when I turn 111, but I dig this mural from breath-art on DeviantArt all the same.

I will not be making one of these lists when I turn 111, but I dig this mural from breath-art on DeviantArt all the same.

  1. Finish writing another book.
  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.
  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.
  14. Grow vegetables.
  15. And then eat them.
  16. Blog twice a month.
  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.
  23. Grow my hair out.
  24. Or cut it off if I’m really feeling it.
  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.
  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.
  32. Read, paint, dance, and dream more with my girls.
  33. Appreciate my husband in word and deed.
  34. Elect a female president. #sorrynotsorry