64, 54, 34

My mom had a coloring book before coloring books for adults were cool.

I remember visiting a family friend, her kids and my brother running in the sprinkler outside and hollering and hooting and what I wanted to do, instead, was sit and watch my mother at their kitchen table carefully coloring a picture of Snow White. She was probably younger then than I am now, her slim fingers selecting pristine crayons from a well-kept box of 64. She had her own coloring book, and her own crayons, because even though I was an observant child, I was still a child and clumsy and like to lose or break or color my favorite colors down to flat nothings.

And besides, she frequently offered me dollars to select coloring books of my own when we went to the grocery store. It’s probably why I can’t resist picking them up for my girls.

I can still see her hands, their strong, brightly painted nails and the rings she liked to wear featuring her favorite gemstone: amethysts. I decided that it was my favorite, too, lamenting that we didn’t share a birth month, as though only those born in the bitter cold of an Ohio February could appreciate that glittering, purple beauty. But I was born in October to my 20-year-old mother, giving her, according to members of my family, something to build her life around. She had always wanted children and my brother and I have probably broken her heart about a thousand times, so it’s only fair that she’s breaking mine now.

She’s in the hospital and she’s not wearing any rings. She showed me her toenails, though, painted purple with sparkles. She felt well enough to paint them, a few weeks ago. But not today. Not now.

I am thinking of the last time that I saw her well and whole, when my mother held my youngest in her arms and her grin was so wide, such a perfect expression of delight, that she’s wearing it in every photograph from that visit. We went to the pool, the zoo, she read the girls a story in the little toddler bed, everyone in pajamas with clean hair and fresh faces.

She’s 54.

She’s very sick.

She might not get better.

I’m 34.

And I’m not ready.

She isn’t, either, and we’re still coming up short on answers and appropriate sentiments. She’s home with my auntie, now, but still so far from me. I am telling myself, regarding distance, not for long.

I am telling myself, regarding time, for a lot, lot longer.

What the Internet is For

When I read Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet I was so delighted by her descriptions of how she approached marketing and promotion for The Guild, how everything was genuine, personal, and obsessively orchestrated by Day herself. As I stalked around my city on my lunch breaks hanging flyers in Cincinnati’s many coffee spots and libraries about my book’s launch and signing earlier this month, or when I still stubbornly respond to every RT and send thank you emails, I like how close to the work that I feel. I enjoy being a part of a community of writers and readers and dreamers, and growing that community all the time.

There are a lot of demands around how to market oneself online and create a personal brand, and I feel grateful to have gotten first involved in an internet before this was a thing. I started blogging in 2001 on Diaryland. I was 18 and it was then, at least for me, about cultivating a voice and entering a conversation. I made friends then that I treasure still now, as I did in subsequent years on Livejournal. At some point, blogging became less about play and more about product, and I’ve always been a little sorry for the change. But social media came along to fill the void at just the right time, and for a few years Myspace, and later Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, allowed for the same informal socializing online. We shared things. We got giddy about things, and sad, and silly.

The medium changes, but my approach doesn’t.

Thinking about Day, again. She has always felt so authentic to me, and so kind, and that’s exactly what I’ve endeavored to be on the internet. I want people to feel as heard as they would if we were sitting across from each other over coffee. I didn’t grow up with the internet, but it’s been part of my adult life for my entire adult life, which is probably why I balk at folks who are just a few years older than I am, in some cases, acting like the conversations and speculations we’re having online are any less real than the ones we’d have in person. If I’m engaging with you, I’m engaging with you. The same goes, I imagine, for so much of my peer group and folks much younger than me, too. I’m just barely a Millennial – I remember when I was growing up, we were called Generation Y, and I’ve always felt there’s a subtle difference for those of us born in the early 80s, old enough to remember the world before the World Wide Web, young enough to appreciate both worlds as they are.

As a writer and a human with stories to share, I am always going to want to talk to you, learn about you, learn from you. I am going to pursue honesty and whimsy and friendship as ardently in a virtual space as I would in a real one – because both are real.

Don’t you think?

Leave Room for Wonder

I stared out my bedroom window as a kid and watched a running woman pursued at night down my rural street by a car with its brights on. I memorized her appearance – athletic build, white tank, grey shorts, fair hair in a ponytail – lying in bed repeating the details to myself long after I couldn’t see her or the car anymore. I figured, based on what I’d witnessed binge-watching Unsolved Mysteries before binge-watching was a thing, that the police would come to my house the next day to question me about this mysterious occurrence.

In retrospect, twenty plus years on, this woman was probably training for a marathon. The car was going very slowly, and she was jogging – maintaining her pace. But I was 10 or 11 at the time and had an extremely overactive imagination fed by conspiracy theories on television and reading too much. I had previously been convinced that the deadened indentations left in our yard by barrels were crop circles, and would in years to come hear indistinct music coming from our woods and assume there was a fairy circle I hadn’t discovered yet. There was magic in the world. There was mystery. And eventually, I would find myself at the center of it.

That day hasn’t come yet, but I’m still dreaming of it. It is the nature of the human mind to seek patterns, to organize and make sense of what we see and hear and touch, and when that’s coupled with a love of the fantastic and the supernatural, I think there’s always going to be a little room for wonder. When I was struggling with anxiety a few months ago, I recall a moment listening to Lore – a podcast I’ve admitted my love for before and not one I would necessarily call inspiring – where the magic of the unexplained came as such a relief to me. No matter how certain or how certainly terrible things seem, I want to always believe in the unbelievable.  There’s plenty of beauty in the known and the comfortable, and I treasure the worn-smooth edges of my life. But I never want to say no to the unknown.

Can you blame me?

Guilty as Charged

My second book has been out for a week, officially. Pretty weird, right? Here’s how I’ve celebrated.

On Tuesday, I shared a kids’ chocolate shake with my littles. Because there’s no not sharing something sweet when your children are awake.

On Wednesday, my husband went out of town for work, so I ferried and fed and bathed my children sans backup. We watched Reading Rainbow and ate leftovers and I stole a few moments to write after they were asleep.

On Thursday, I read a whole graphic novel before bed.

On Friday, my husband came home. We drank coffee, played video games, and did some writing and reading, respectively, before bed.

On Saturday, I mailed copies of both my first and second books to my parents, along with a late Mother’s Day card and an early Father’s Day card.

On Sunday, I folded a whole lot of laundry. We blew bubbles on the porch, watered the vegetable garden, and went to our girls’ first baseball game.

On Monday, I balanced an unpleasant but necessary errand in the morning by taking myself to see Wonder Woman.

Sometimes being a creator means a whole lot of guilt.

And today, I’m thinking that for as momentous as it seems and as it really is to be authoring, not much has changed or is likely to change for me. I work. I mother. I help take care of my family and my home. I don’t spend enough time nurturing relationships with friends, I don’t read enough books, I never write enough. I will waste time on Twitter. I will never see the end of little socks and undies vomited forth from the dryer. I will bake things and eat them even when I know that I shouldn’t. I will be inspired to write on my commute only to have my ideas flee when I have a moment to devote to them.

I’ll live and love and daydream of living and loving differently.

I’ll always want to be and do better.

I feel like the question comes up a lot, why do you write? And my answer is always the same. I can’t not write. There are days when I wish I didn’t feel the pressure to create, because I’m usually exhausted and only want to relax like a normal human. Watch television. Play Skyrim. Pursue any number of leisure activities without guilt. But that’s not who I am, perhaps especially on days when I wish that’s who I could be.

So, my second book has been out for a full week, and my life goes on. I’m working on something new. I’m obsessively checking for reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. I’m cooking and cleaning up and putting in my 40 hours a week. I am trying.

And that’s okay.

See You on the Other Side

My first book was first published nearly four years ago, and it’s been with me in one form or another for far longer than that. There have been a number of instances since that have made me feel like a “real” author, but honestly, with the launch of my second book newly behind me, a signing at my favorite local independent bookseller is the realest.

I love signings and I’ve written before about how conflicted I feel when I listen to other authors read and discuss their works, when I throw my money at them for a signed copy and some swag. I’m an avid reader and fangirl, and that’s not something that’s like to change, ever. But getting to be on the other side of the table, even once, it gives me thrills just thinking about it.

If you’re in Cincinnati or near to it, I hope you’ll consider stopping in and saying hello. I’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Rookwood Pavilion at 7 PM, discussing and signing both books. I’m going to be making buttons at our local library’s MakerSpace to give away, and I’ve also ordered cookies that will change your life. And, of course, there will be books!

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?