Category Archives: Close Encounters (of Some Kind)

What Teenagers Write About is Weird

Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

When I was in the fifth grade, heavily influenced by multiple readings of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess and my own deep desire for Kirsten, I wrote a short story for class about a Victorian-esque pauper girl who coveted a doll in a window at Christmastime. Naturally, that porcelain beauty was bound to sustain her more than bread or soup or central heat, so a kindly young mother who had lost her own daughter to illness made everyone’s dreams come true by adopting the child and buying her the damn doll. Appealing narrative for an 11-year-old with no disposable income, right?

I think of this story now and then, and remember that my fifth-grade teacher told my parents I was writing at a college-level. I thought that was a bit of a joke until I taught college, and then I suspected for a hot minute it was an insult, but still. She was an incredibly supportive teacher and the first in a long line of teachers who indulged my love of writing fiction.

Even at 13, I recognized the need for [REDACTED].

In the seventh grade, I wrote what I realize now was basically erotic friend fiction – though with far fewer butts and a whole lot more dystopian wasteland. This was the first long-form piece I ever wrote, beginning with a natural disaster that conveniently swept all of the adults out of the picture and allowed me to populate a post-parent fantasy land with my peers. We foraged for food, crafted weapons, built shelters Island of the Blue Dolphins-style, and even relocated from Ohio to the beach, where I was able to introduce new characters from my class who had been presumed dead. Why? Because it took me months to write this thing and I was crushing on somebody else by then and needed a reason to write them into the story.

Teenagers, man.

The best/worst part is honestly that I shared this, chapter by painstaking chapter, with my English teacher. She was so nice about it that I wonder now if she even read it, or if she just felt sorry for the girl who repeatedly had her name slandered on the chalkboard by some of the same boys she was writing about. If I could go back in time, I’d make them eat those pages. Or just kick them repeatedly in the shins.

But it was easier at thirteen to retreat into a world whose boundaries I could write and rewrite, whose conflicts were of my own devising and whose resolutions happily followed a linear narrative. There is still an element of joy in controlling a world when I’m writing – or at the very least, trusting that when I’m not in control I’ll reach a suitable ending.

And at least the most embarrassing things I’ve ever written and will ever write are behind me.

I hope.

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.

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?

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!

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?

 

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.

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.

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

To Boldly Grow Up

The cutest, right? nnaj on DeviantArt has a lovely sense of humor.

The cutest, right? nnaj on DeviantArt has a lovely sense of humor.

I’m sure I’m not the only nerd writing about Star Trek today, but reading these memories from other fans of the franchise on its 50th birthday got my warp plasma flowing.

I didn’t grow up with TOS, but rather, TNG. Thanks to my dad, I was lucky to be the kid who watched Reading Rainbow and wondered what Geordi La Forge was doing there, rather than the other way around. I remember Riker without a beard, though whether it’s from initial viewings at 5 years old or later reruns, I can’t tell you. I definitely recall with terror and wonder first contact with the Borg, whose soulless assimilation has informed my understanding of true villainy to this day.

I was of the tender generation who never found Wesley Crusher to be obnoxious, but instead a character who created a space for somebody like me on the bridge of the Enterprise.

As I grew up, other series attracted my interest, most notably Voyager and Enterprise, the latter of which I will not tolerate any bitching about unless you’ve actually seen it in its entirety. As a writer, I found their plot lines and character dynamics the most compelling, and resistance to my love of this series is futile. Voyager I watched on Netflix well after it aired, and it gave me the female captain I hadn’t known I’d always wanted – and a bit of a grudge against my dad for not introducing me to Janeway when I had been a teenager much in need of a boss lady bending the Prime Directive under duress.

One of the most powerful sentiments I read regarding the franchise was this:

“The show delivered good news: there might be a future that included peace, hope, and bold adventure, and it came in bright colors, featured space travel, and was fun!”

This has always been the thing that I have loved best about Star Trek, that human beings could overcome all of the nonsense, violence, and bigotry to be better, to be a force for peace and friendship in the galaxy. I appreciated seeing the trope of invading alien species uniting us against them turned on its head, with humanity’s first contact with the Vulcans instead revealing all that we could be and aspire to, rather than disparage and fear. I grew up with a series that embodied what a society fully entrenched in this kind of noble stability could look like, and to this day it is the utopia that appeals to me the most. It’s what I hope for when I see people doing good for the sake of doing good, making sacrifices for others without recognition or compensation, when our ugliest impulses as human beings are forgotten in moments of compassion, creativity, and selflessness.

We have the opportunity now to be bolder than ever, 50 years later.

Roll the Dice to See if I’m Getting Drunk

Our ship, the Wormwood. Don't ask me why the sea monster breathes fire, it just does.

Our ship, the Wormwood. Don’t ask me why the sea monster breathes fire. It just does.

Unlike most of the live action roleplayers that I know, I didn’t get my start in sword and sorcery playing tabletop. I launched right into the ultimate nerdom of LARP, beginning in 2004 in a NERO chapter that has since launched their own pretty killer gaming system. Beyond taking a few years away from the game to incubate and birth my own little weirdos, I am still donning the costume and hefting a fistful of spell packets with local friends. I’ve been LARPing for twelve years – but only this year am I finally DMing my own tabletop game.

Despite my experiences writing and running plot at a variety of scout camps over the years, and playing in a few tabletop games, I’ve been as anxious as I am amped about running my own.

But because I’ve been obsessing about the idea since reading this article on all girls D&D group this time last year, I just couldn’t let it go. I knew this was exactly what I wanted. My experiences with mixed groups of players have been phenomenal ones, but I’ve definitely held back. Many of the things that I enjoy have been traditionally male-dominated, and while that’s for sure changing, the stigma is still there – the expectations, the jokes, the out-of-nowhere feeling of being an outsider stealing over me when I least expect it.

The video above has always made me snort with laughter, and now I’d like to make a tasteless comment about getting drunk in a tavern, trolling for dudes, without the awkwardness of there being dudes in the room. Or, alternately, being the only girl in the room when a comment like this is made by a dude. I wanted roleplay, debauchery, thieves and warriors and lovers without the baggage of being a girl – it’s complicated, but it’s a real wish and I’m definitely selfish enough to be motivated to make it happen.

So, with help, I acquired the manuals. The pawns. Drew the maps. Created YouTube playlists for ambiance. Spent too much time thinking about how each NPC would speak only to eventually really butcher their accents.

After our first two sessions, and anticipating a third this coming weekend, I don’t think I could have chosen a finer group of ladies to adventure with. We’ve had whippings for insubordination, woefully inaccurate pig slaughtering, stories of theatrical gore, secret hook ups, sly bids for power, and moans of mismanagement among pirates. There’s not a single gal at the table who hasn’t delighted me with her imagination and her wit. While I’m still getting my sea legs rolling the big dice, they are on it.

It’s pretty much everything I could’ve hoped for.