Cardboard Creations, Super Funny New Videos, and Other Important Happenings in My World

My friend Michael Carson, who writes under the author name M.A. Carson, has been updating his website — and the work he has done is AWESOME!! Some of you may remember seeing Michael’s picture in a blog post I wrote about the Durango Literary Festival in 2015, when Michael joined me for a local authors event, and I dressed up as Wonder Woman. We’ve been critique partners for several years, and both of us have self-published books.

Along with writing fiction, Michael has a passion for creating three-dimensional art. A lot of this art is featured on his website, and he’s started creating some super funny videos to showcase his work.

This video is one of his newest, and I think it’s absolutely FANTASTIC —

 

Here is how Michael describes why he started building three-dimensional artistic creations

“I began cardboard sculpting as a way to make gift-giving more unexpected. What if that beautifully decorated Christmas box was in the shape of a toilet, or a robot, or a zombie with presents hidden in each limb?
It was so much fun watching my family tear into different creations that I wanted to explore just what else could be made out of packing material.

Constructing an idea out of recycled cardboard gives it a physical weight, dimension and texture that make no two ideas the same.

I love writing, drawing, and editing silly videos, but there’s nothing like holding a piece of your imagination in two hands, knowing it was a box of frozen waffles a few days ago.”

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Michael wrote and self-published a delightful novel titled Beauty Is for Suckers, the first chapter of which earned first place at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Contest in 2014. (To give some perspective on what an accomplishment this is: In 2016, I entered the first chapter of Kinned to the Sea into that same contest, and received such an abysmally low score, I ended up revising the entire opening of the book. Michael’s submission WON FIRST PLACE. His material was polished, engaging, funny, relatable, and compelling, and that same Chapter One remained the novel’s opening when he self-published the book. I think his novel ROCKS.)

Some of my Thought Candy followers read Michael’s humorous vampire book, and even left him Amazon reviews praising his work. ((SO MUCH COOLNESS!!)) There is nothing my little indie-publishing heart loves more than seeing my friends and readers helping to support other indie authors, whenever and however they can.

I would recommend everyone rush out and read Beauty Is for Suckers, if you haven’t read the book yet, but Michael has currently removed the novel from sale. He is sending out query letters again, seeing if he might be able to interest a literary agent to represent the book and find his novel a traditional publisher.

In the meantime, he has plans to continue designing cardboard creations and uploading fun (and super funny!) videos onto his author website. You can follow Michael’s work on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also subscribe to his website, and receive updates directly from his author page.

If you have a family member or friend who is an indie artist, or who might be an aspiring indie artist, you may want to share Michael’s work with them for inspiration as well as entertainment. Spending hours in solitude working on projects like this can be a lonely activity, and knowing that other people are out there doing the same thing can make the world feel a lot less lonely.

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And here is a quick update on Kinned to the Sea (which I published on March 6 of this year) — the book has been downloaded from Smashwords (where it is available for FREE) a total of 143 times. My urban fantasy, Bloodshade of the Goddess — (which I published on January 26, and is also FREE on Smashwords) — has been downloaded a total of 279 times. I’m curious to see which title ends up with more downloads by May 2, which is the day I turn 37. I have a hunch Bloodshade of the Goddess will be the clear winner, because the book has gained almost 80 additional downloads since Kinned to the Sea was published.

On Goodreads as well as Amazon, The Etiquette of Wolves remains my most popular title, dominating my number of reviews and ratings on both sites. But I keep hoping that the availability of free ebooks will help change that situation, and that my newest two books might be able to catch up.

This Sunday, March 26, I’ll be the guest speaker at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango. I’ll be delivering a sermon similar to the speech I delivered at the Standing on the Side of Love March on January 21. I need to actually write this sermon though, so I will go work on that now. I really hope this goes well. I chose some quotes from the Qur’an to go with my sermon, and I plan to talk about the Prophet Muhammad a little, when I deliver the children’s story to the congregation that morning. If any of my Thought Candy readers live in the area, and want to come hear me speak this Sunday, the service starts at 10:00 a.m. and ends by 11:00 a.m. Everyone is more than welcome to come, and I would LOVE to see you there! ^.^

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Toaster Thinks I Am Satan, and Other Important News in My Life

In October 2016, I started a new novel, one I thought would be a standard murder mystery. A contemporary, real-life kind of book. But in the very first chapter, the story morphed out of control, and became a ghost story instead.

I hadn’t planned for that to happen, especially since I don’t read paranormal novels unless they’re passed off as “mainstream” stories, but these ghosts weren’t going away. The novel was definitely some kind of paranormal small-town horror story, and I got pretty mad at myself. In all truth, I’m still pissed at myself. Every time I think of those ghosts, I start fuming, and immediately want to throw a tantrum. I envision flinging my toaster out my dining room window a lot.

I’d been hoping to write a story that could be like my first novel, The Etiquette of Wolves, full of humor and bad guys and maybe a love story, something relatable and NORMAL that could possibly give me a bigger readership, because The Etiquette of Wolves remains my only book that has sold more than ten copies.

And then an annoying, smelly ghost showed up out of nowhere, right on page one, and ruined all of my plans. Ugh. Goddamn it, life.

I made it about a third of the way through that book, and I thought I’d made peace with my rage, but then my frustration got the best of me, and I jumped ship, picked up my original draft of Mark of the Pterren: Book II, and started a full-scale rewrite, which felt like bliss. Who needs a smelly ghost and a main character who summons the dead, when I have winged sociopaths slaughtering children and destroying the world? Of course I chose the sociopaths. One of my favorite pterren characters, the Mirador general named Hlinka, becomes a point of view character in the next installment of that story. How can I resist Hlinka?

But then my brain decided I had something else I wanted to do even more, which was to watch history videos like this one, over and over again, because apparently I need the world to know that the most exciting thing in my life is contemplating the border regions of empires like it’s some kind of job. This one is my favorite —

 

That video isn’t perfect, as the years are a bit off with the map, and certain countries have been simplified, rather than drawing out all their tortured fractures, but this remains my favorite European Timelapse video, mostly because I love the music so much.

For the last fifteen years, I have dreamed about writing a book starring Suleiman the Magnificent. He ruled the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, and I love this sultan in the same way I love King Arthur. A love that runs deep down in my soul. Suleiman was a complicated dude, and a great warrior. The guy was a f*cking badass. He completely fascinates me and sometimes I can’t even understand how the world isn’t as infatuated and breathlessly in love with Suleiman as I am. I love him so much that I don’t even like talking about him with people because folks either look at me like I’m the most pitiful waste of space they’ve ever encountered, or they mock his name, and I honestly don’t know which is worse. People assuming I’m a pitiful ignoramus who possibly sympathizes with “Muslim terrorists” because I love a long-dead Ottoman sultan, or people making fun of this man I love because his name sounds silly to them.

(Ugh. WHY. Why mock his name? Just because it’s foreign, and har har, you can tell right away that he wasn’t born in America? Ugh. His name is his NAME. I wish people would stop with the hating. He is SULEIMAN. He is AWESOME. Where is my toaster to throw out the window?? Epic fangirl tantrum, all up in here. Toaster Smash.)

(I feel like it is important to note that I would never throw my toaster out a window. I cannot afford to buy a new window. But sometimes I do scowl at the wall while I’m washing dishes. Full disclosure.)

Since I obviously now need a distraction, here is a nice Suleiman-esque picture to look at —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Yes, I know that is not an Actual Photograph of Suleiman the Magnificent, but there is no denying that Middle Eastern men are quite pretty and their headgear is rather attractive.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I really like this man’s nose. And that orange collar with the buttons is RAWR. I also love the fringe on his headscarf. That fringe is WIN.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(If any of these men needed to borrow my toaster, I would not throw it out the window at them.)

For many years, I thought I’d write a screenplay about Suleiman. The older I get, and the more novels I write, the more I believe I’ll write a novel about him. Or maybe a series of novels. I seem to be a rather long-winded kind of writer who prefers to go On And On Into Infinity with my stories. This probably explains why I cannot find an agent to save my life.

I always had this big dream that I would move to Turkey, rent an apartment in Istanbul for two years, and travel all over the country, studying Ottoman history and writing this huge, sweeping epic starring this man and the years of his rule and all the startling, compelling, and heartbreaking things that took place in his empire in the 16th century.

So a few weeks ago, when I started compulsively watching these Timelapse videos again — I think I watched my favorite about fifty times one Saturday night — I ended up starting a new project. The story isn’t set in the 16th century, but in the territory that is now Ukraine, in a stretch of land that was called New Russia in 1790. A time period when the Ottoman Empire was still in existence.

I love this project so much. It’s a fantasy, a fairy tale retelling blended with historical fiction. Like Bloodshade of the Goddess and Kinned to the Sea, the characters use magic and the pacing is quick.

My husband is kind of mad at me because all I want to do lately is work on this book. I keep telling him he just has to accept that this story is The Best Thing EVER and Greg says, “You say that about all your books,” and he calls me annoying. Then I ask him to make green chili for dinner, and he does, but he still thinks I am annoying.

As of 10:50 p.m. on Sunday, March 12, Kinned to the Sea has been downloaded from Smashwords 111 times. So in the first seven days that I’ve published the ebook, one hundred eleven people have decided the book sounded good enough to download. For Bloodshade of the Goddess, the ebook has been downloaded from Smashwords 260 times. About 45 of those downloads were the result of Kinned to the Sea being published, after readers on Smashwords decided they wanted my free mer book as well as my free vampire novel.

I’m really glad I have some friends who have shared my webpage link for Kinned to the Sea on their Facebook pages, and I keep hoping I can build up my readership by providing these books free of charge.

Anyone who can leave an honest book review for any of my novels has my sincere thanks. Amazon and Goodreads are both great places to leave reviews, and so are Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. You can leave a review for a book even if you do not purchase the book, though you do need to have a profile on a site in order to post a review.

I’m not sure what I will publish next, but chances are high that it will feature smelly ghosts, sociopaths, or Imperial Russia. Please tell all your friends it will be The Best Thing EVER. Right after you read Kinned to the Sea. Because War Mermaids rock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A House on Fire, Sometimes Life Is Too Too Scary

On Monday, March 6, 2017, I had a book club meeting at 6:00 p.m.

I belong to a book club called Women Reading Women, in which we select books penned by female authors to discuss. For the month of March, I convinced my book club to read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, a memoir about her time training a goshawk after the death of her father. It’s a beautiful literary work, written with poetic prose and great subtlety. The author weaves themes of identity, ostracism, war, human nature, animal nature, artistic expression, and grief into paragraphs so exquisitely rendered the effect is quite breathtaking. I reread Chapter One as soon as I finished it.

As a literary memoir, it’s one of those books in which not much takes place on the outside, but entire galaxies burn and flare in each sentence. Not everyone enjoys prose like this. I really love it.

I had meant to read the entire book before my meeting on Monday night. But a number of events prevented that from happening. Late Sunday night, I found myself in the situation of needing to spend all day Monday reading the book in order to finish in time, but on Monday morning, my ebook formatter sent me my final, corrected e-files for Kinned to the Sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My fifth novel took me much longer to finish than I anticipated. Only one person in my final round of beta-readers read the final draft, and then there were some extra delays in completing the last round of copyedits and formatting. When the corrected files came in Monday morning, I immediately started uploading my new ebook to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. This took me all morning. Then I rewrote my book description for the sales page, and corrected that information on each platform, which took a large chunk of time from my afternoon.

I didn’t finish H Is for Hawk, but at least I could announce that my newest novel was ready to read. Even so, I felt exhausted and pretty much like a failure. My mood dropped so low that I actually went to the grocery store and bought some caramel ice cream, to give myself a sugar-high to counteract my sucky attitude. The ice cream worked its magic, and I pulled my sh*t together, Reader Fail and all.

I went to my book club meeting at 6:00, and discovered only one person read the entire book. Everyone else DNF’d (Did Not Finish), skimmed the memoir, or didn’t even start this book. Since I only read the first 100 pages, I had to clarify that my Reader Fail wasn’t due to not enjoying the book, but time constraints. I was the only one who loved this memoir, and I do plan to finish H Is for Hawk.

The conversation at book club mostly focused on politics, and we get pretty heated and curse a lot and I generally feel like an asshole but at least I brought cookies. (I also took pasta, but let’s not kid ourselves about the importance of sugar, and that Cookies Are King.) My book club chose The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, for our April read, and lucky me a friend of mine gave me that book back in August, so I have a copy already.

As soon as I left my book club meeting, people started calling me. My mom, my sister-in-law, my friend Blair — my phone rang and rang as I dropped off my friend Mary, and by the time I dug the thing out of my purse, and answered, I discovered the house my sister lives in was on fire, and was “burning to the ground.”

Laura lives in Silverton, Colorado, a one-hour drive north from Durango. The house that had caught fire is owned by our mother, and she lives in what we call “the main house,” which is located right next door. Followers of my blog may recall that “the main house” was mortgaged almost two decades ago, and is now under constant threat of foreclosure. The house my sister lives in used to be full of my mom’s old furniture and miscellaneous boxes of memorabilia up until last May, when I helped my siblings clean the house out to let Laura move in. She gave birth to her first child last May, and needed a place to live, so my family did a bunch of work so that Laura and her then-boyfriend could move into this unused house, along with their infant daughter.

In October, we installed a wood stove in the house because Laura’s then-boyfriend wanted to heat the house with a wood stove, Laura had agreed to this plan, and no one had $5,000.00 for a new propane furnace. The former boyfriend no longer lives there, and baby Serena is now ten months old.

On Monday night, Laura came home from a day out of town, and she started a fire to warm up the house. Her friend Emannuel was with her, as well as Serena. Soon after starting the fire, Laura noticed a strange smell in the house, like burned plastic. There was no smoke in the air, and nothing appeared to be wrong. Emannuel has no sense of smell, so he couldn’t verify that Laura smelled something funky.

Since everyone survived this fire, I asked Laura to type the rest of this story for me — so here is my sister, relating this story in her own words —

**********

About fifteen minutes into watching our movie and watching Serena play, I caught a whiff of a strange smell — kind of like burning plastic. I was going to ask Eman if he smelled it, but realizing he had no sense of smell, I just started to look toward the fireplace to see if maybe one of Serena’s toys had magically gone over the brick barrier, when we both heard a funny ticking noise. Eman asked, “Can you hear that?”

“Yes,” I said as I finished getting to my feet. I took a step closer to the wood stove. As I looked up to the triple-wall piping that leads out of the house, I realized the wall around the pipe was bright orange and red — not the metal, but INSIDE THE WALL. So I said, “Eman, the wall is on fire. Grab the fire extinguisher from the front door, right there –” I pointed five feet away — “and hit the stove with it.”

“Get Serena out of the house,” Eman said to me. So I picked up Serena, grabbed my coat, pulled out my phone, dialed the dispatch number, and had dispatch on the phone by the time I opened the door to let Sooky [the dog], Serena and I out the front door.

As soon as we were on the front landing, Eman sprayed the wood stove with the extinguisher, then the wall where the pipe meets it, and when the spray hit the fire, the whole house immediately filled with smoke, which came pouring out the front door, hitting me in the back. So I took Serena in her car seat (which Eman had handed to me) over to my mom’s house, to let my mom know what had happened, and tell her that I had called the police.

While I did that, Eman went around the side of the house and sprayed the south-facing wall with the fire extinguisher, the wall where the wood stove pipe goes all the way up the side of the house. Then Eman went back inside to look for my cat, who had not made it out with the rest of us. This was also when the first police officer arrived, and handed Eman another extinguisher, which he took with him upstairs.

Eman went into the big bedroom above the living room (the living room is the room with the wood stove in it) — and inside this bedroom, he saw flames starting to come out of the wall behind a king-sized bed I keep for guests in that room.

Eman called for my cat, sprayed the wall with the fire, and then left the house.

Meanwhile, I had no idea Eman had seen fire in the wall, I still thought the wall was smoldering. I returned to my house, went inside, and walked up the stairs to my smaller bedroom, where I have mine and Serena’s clothes, which is the room next to the one that was now on fire. I didn’t see my cat. F*ck. So I thought, “Well sh*t, the house is full of smoke, I’m going to close this door so the the smoke doesn’t go in there, and open the window in the bathroom so the smoke has somewhere to go.”

Then I went back downstairs, still not realizing the second-floor south-facing wall of my house had become an inferno. I went to the other side of the house to the kitchen, opened the back door and called for the cat — still nothing. So I went back to the wood stove and cleaned up a path to get into the living room, moving Serena’s basket of toys and pillows and stuff that was on the floor so it wouldn’t get trampled on — and that’s when I heard Eman and the police officer screaming at me from the front yard, yelling, “Get the hell out of the house, Laura!”

So I did — and when I came around the corner of the room I had just vacated, I saw the side of the house had flames going all the way to the roof. A few minutes later, when my brother arrived, he told me he could see the orange glow of those flames from downtown, a few blocks away.

Watching the fire department spray water at both sides of my house, struggling to put out the fire for almost two hours, breaking the window into the bedroom to put out the flames in that king-size bed, which was a raging inferno by that point, broke my heart. The fire department really had to fight that fire — it did not die easily.

I am so grateful everyone is okay, and that I have amazing family and friends who make my world go ’round.

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A big thank you to Laura for typing that up for me. My sister is an amazing woman. Emannuel is an amazing man. They kept everyone safe and took all the right steps to keep that house from burning down. And thank God the fire happened at 8:00 p.m. and not 3:00 a.m., while Laura and Serena lay upstairs asleep.

As soon as I learned my sister’s house was on fire, I went home, packed an overnight bag, and drove to Silverton. I stayed the night in my mom’s house with Laura, Serena, my mom, my bothers Johnny and Mitchell, Sooky (the dog) and all the many kitties who live there. We returned to Laura’s house around midnight and found Laura’s cat in her kitchen, who was scared but unharmed. Laura brought him to my mom’s house.

Laura’s house didn’t burn to the ground, but the fire destroyed the big upstairs bedroom, and the smoke damage upstairs was bad enough that my brother Lee said the house came close to erupting into a complete structure fire due to the heat from the flames in the bedroom wall. When Laura closed the door to the smaller bedroom, she effectively saved ALL her clothes and precious belongings from being destroyed by smoke damage (permanently stained black or brown). She had little in the large bedroom other than the king-size bed and a few pieces of furniture — everything Laura lost in this fire, she can replace.

The house has **major** water damage now, and some of the second-floor south wall is missing, burned away in the flames.

On Tuesday morning, I went back into the burned house with my sister, and we loaded up six large trash bags with clothing (soaked with icy water and reeking of smoke), which I brought home to Durango to wash. If you have ever been in a burned house, you’ll know that the smoke and the charred debris emits a strong chemical smell, which is the odor of burned drywall, melted plastic, and roasted metal. Depending upon the materials that have gone up in flames, the particular chemical mix changes from house to house, but the smoke has a heavy industrial odor. It’s loaded with a higher concentration of poisonous chemicals, stings the eyes more, and we all know most people who die in fires die from smoke inhalation. It’s deadly stuff.

Laura followed me back to Durango on Tuesday afternoon (yesterday afternoon), to stay with me for a while. She brought Serena with her, and our mom is watching Sooky (the dog) and Laura’s cat, since I don’t have pets at my house. I made us dinner last night, and bought Laura lots of self-care items and new baby soap, and she gave Serena a bath, took a hot shower, rolled around on the floor with the baby and ate ice cream, and we just spent time together, stumbling through shock and washing smoky-bag after smoky-bag of almost-ruined laundry.

I hope my mom’s homeowner’s insurance will cover the cost of the damages. We are in some major financial trouble if the insurance doesn’t come through. But it’s too soon to know what will happen with that.

In the meantime, here is a picture of my sister eating the eggs and bacon I cooked for breakfast this morning —

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serena ate a little eggs and bacon, too.

If not for the fire on Monday night, I’d have shared a blog post about Kinned to the Sea now being available as an ebook. I’m still in shock over everything, but I did check all three sales platforms this morning, and Kinned to the Sea is available on them all. Here is my webpage with all three links where you can find this book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

If you can afford to spend $2.99 for the ebook, I really appreciate your financial support. If you cannot afford the book, or you are someone who would normally receive the book for free in gratitude for beta-reading or being one of my critique partners, you can download the ebook for free on Smashwords.

Please leave a book review if you can. You do not have to purchase the book in order to leave a customer review on a sales page.

Thank you for reading. I thought March 6, 2017 would go down as the day I launched my fifth ebook, but that house fire changed all my plans. This Sunday, I’ll be lighting a candle of joy at church that no one was hurt, and that the only things my sister lost were pieces of furniture, some electronics, and small household items. We’ll pray the damage done to the house can be repaired soon. Sometimes life is too too scary.

 

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Hearts in Jars, and a Lion Named Fluffy

When I was little, I lived in a small house on 700 South Broadway, at the end of a long street of houses, on the edge of a hill overlooking a valley of train tracks.

On the steepest side of this hill, behind all the homes, was a scraggly wood that people used as a local garbage drop. Unwanted stoves, refrigerators, broken toys, found their final resting place here. Poison ivy grew everywhere. Chiggers thrived. So did hornets and bees and dense, thorny plants that cut open skin like a knife in soft butter. I loved this wood. I played there all the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starving strays also lived on this hillside, and I wanted to rescue them all. My mom allowed me to keep one when I was four or five, a calico cat she named Fluffy. Fluffy’s fur was a rainbow, shades of grey mixed with tans. She was a smallish-sized cat, and I met her as a kitten.

Fluffy immediately became the love of my life. She went everywhere with me, even when I learned to ride a bike and pedaled far from home, Fluffy would come along with me, like a dog.

We played in the woods all the time. She knew all my favorite footpaths, my favorite hiding places, my favorite perches for taking in the view. I was King of this Hill, and Fluffy was my First General.

She brought me presents all the time, mostly black garter snakes. Fluffy would catch them alive and bring them to me, twisting and writhing, snared in her little mouth.

Whenever my mom saw this happen, she would scream and scream. Snakes terrified her. They fascinated me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fluffy’s gifts always slithered away, as soon as she bequeathed them to me. This was because picking up Fluffy excited me more than grabbing hold of a snake, even though I found serpents so interesting. Fluffy’s body would be hot hot hot, her muscles tensed, coiled, ready to spring, desperate to leap for that snake again, watching its long dark body wriggle away. “Damn it,” I could hear her say in my head. “There it goes.”

“Yes,” I would think to her. “There it goes.” Let it go.

Of the objects I liked to collect from the wood, some of my favorites were rusty spoons, which I used as dissection equipment. And my favorite things to dissect, as a child, were the bodies of birds. Armed with my rusty spoons, I opened up corpses in various states of decay, but I loved to find them in the earlier stages of death, when their bodies ballooned with gases and egg hatchlings, squirming and shifting with maggots.

Fluffy watched my work with intensity. She would sit crouched at my side, staring intently, as I cracked into desiccated muscle and ribs. From beneath the dark feathers and the thin, rotted skin, erupted a thick sea of maggots, shivering as they spilled to the ground like a milky rice pudding.

My younger brothers sometimes attended these dissections, and I taught them the wonders of decayed organs and maggots. Fluffy took great pride in this work, because she viewed all these dead birds as her kills. “Yes, I destroyed that,” she said all the time, in the haughty set of her shoulders and the lethal glint in her eyes. “I killed this bird. And that one. And that one. And that dead turtle you found. And that rabbit. I, Fluffy, killed them all just for you.” She saw herself as Death Incarnate, the Great Lion of Paradise, a vigilant shadow always stalking her prey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortly after I turned nine, my family moved away from 700 South Broadway, to a new town down the road. I no longer lived on a hillside by train tracks, and my new neighbors didn’t like strays. They put out bowls of poison, to kill off unwanted cats, and I didn’t know anything of this danger. Fluffy must have taken a drink from one of these bowls, and she died, and I never found her body, never saw her again.

This was the first time I learned that God can cut open your chest, slice out your heart, and sew you back up again, good as new. The same way I cracked open those maggot-filled birds with my rusty spoons, such a procedure could be done with me.

I called and called and called for Fluffy. I searched for her everywhere, all the time. In the silent hours of night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I would kneel on the floor in the dark, with my ear pressed to the wall, imagining that the creaks and quiet pops of the house were the sounds Fluffy made, traveling the space between the beams holding drywall.

The Great Lion of Paradise was immortal, you see. My best friend couldn’t die. She roamed with me still, through the walls of the house.

In high school, at age seventeen, I dissected a cat in biology class. Female, and smallish, and thoroughly soaked in formaldehyde, she looked everything and nothing like Fluffy. In the eight years that had passed since I’d lost her, God had harvested my heart several more times, and I meditated over this corpse a great deal, as I wielded my scalpel and ticked off each task on my assignment checklist.

Months prior to enrolling in that biology class, I took a trip to Chicago, and spent a day with college students dissecting human cadavers. I stood without speaking and watched their day’s work, staring intently, and when they finished and zipped up the corpses back into their bags, I walked to the wide metal shelves mounted into the walls. The students filed out, but their professor left a few of the lights on for me.

I studied the glass jars holding various body parts, human fetuses, diseased sections of tissue, and eventually found myself before a large framed portrait of the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, who died in 1890. This information was not attached to his picture, but I already knew who he was, from books I had read. I gazed at him for a time.

Not far from this photo, I found a row of human hearts. I picked up each jar, measuring the weight in my hands. The entire room smelled of rot and formaldehyde, and I took comfort in being alone in this cavernous space, this shadowy lab full of bagged cadavers and jars, swathed in silence.

Beneath the cold glass in my fingertips, floating in that dense chemical, I felt those hearts beating. And maybe they were all mine, and this was where God had stored them, waiting for the day I would find them.

If I pressed an ear to the wall, I knew I would hear Fluffy. Scraping through the gap in the beams, beneath the drywall, letting me know she was there.

 

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When You Realize You’re Talking to a Misogynist, and Things Just Get Weird

So I ended up having one of those oh-dear-god conversations with a man who is a work acquaintance of my husband. I’ll call this man Fredo, after Michael Corleone’s pathetic brother in The Godfather. The brother Michael arranges to have someone else shoot in the head and dump his body to sleep with the fishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a lot of fans of The Godfather, I do not think Fredo is a horrible person, though he does make poor decisions, since he is a rather bumbling and pathetic individual, beset by deep feelings of inadequacy and a long list of fears. He is an incredibly human kind of human, flawed and weak and hungry for love. I hate watching him executed and dumped overboard.

I haven’t watched The Godfather movies in more than a decade, but thinking of Fredo’s demise always conjures thoughts of a short-sighted fool who doesn’t deserve to be murdered, a man I pity a great deal.

So. Back to this work acquaintance of my husband’s, who I am calling Fredo for the purposes of this blog post — since I do not want to publicly insult anyone, but I also want to express my displeasure at general assholery and sh*ttiness in the world at large, which is my right as a blogger. (Blogger Power, 101)

Since this conversation took place on Friday, February 10, 2017, Fredo began by expressing his contempt for everyone in the country who opposed the appointment of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education. I was uninterested in debating this with him, since Ms. DeVos is officially the Secretary now and I’m tired of talking about her. Saturday Night Live did the best job of summarizing why so many Americans were upset about her nomination, in the Sean Spicer Press Conference skit (with Melissa McCarthy playing Sean Spicer) that aired on February 4. (If you haven’t seen this yet, you can watch the skit on YouTube at the link here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though Ms. DeVos stated that she supported guns in schools to protect against possible grizzly attacks, Fredo continued his rant against “special snowflake” Americans by saying that the biggest problem with the U.S. education system is that boys are being taught by female teachers, and that this is why boys have been falling behind in school — because “women don’t understand anything about guns. And boys want to learn about guns.”

“Interesting,” I said. “What makes you think women don’t understand anything about guns?”

“Because women don’t know sh*t about war,” Fredo said. “Women want to sit around on their asses, nursing babies all day. Men are the ones who actually want to get up and DO something. Something important. Women sit around watching that Fifty Shades sh*t about men who beat their girlfriends with riding crops. I mean, that is just f*cking pathetic. Women like this should not be teaching our children. Little boys want to write stories about guns and warfare, but their teachers won’t let them do that in school. Why not? Because women want boys to write about puppies and rainbows and a lot of faggot sh*t like that. Not guns and war and dropping bombs on people. Little boy starts writing a war story in school, someone says he needs medication, and that’s f*cked up. Boys ought to be encouraged to learn about war and write about it. Not that stupid romance sh*t women write.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a strong sense that Fredo was speaking from personal experience. I asked if he thought boys were discouraged from writing “warfare stories” in high school as much as in elementary school.

“Absolutely!” he said. “You bet your damn sh*tter they are. The best thing that could happen in this country, is if we put men back in the classroom again. Our kids ought to be learning useful skills in school, and women don’t know sh*t about anything that really matters in life, so how good a teacher can a woman be?”

I said, “Well, I’ve seen a lot of fine teachers, who know an awful lot of stuff about life, and many of those teachers have been women.” Fredo rolled his eyes and snorted. “And for the record,” I added, “I never wanted to have a baby, even though I do possess a fully-functioning uterus. I also haven’t seen the Fifty Shades movie, I’d probably murder anyone who hit me with a riding crop, and I like to write stories about war.”

Fredo gave me a shocked expression. Then he scowled. “What the hell do YOU know about war?”

I just stood there smiling a moment, not meeting his gaze anymore, but not walking away from him, either.

Which had the effect of pissing him off.

And then dear Fredo stormed off. No doubt cursing me in his head the whole way to his pickup.

Which was for the best, really. Because who knows what would’ve come out of my mouth, at that point. I kind of wanted to reassure him that I only wrote about rainbows and puppies and BDSM. And to make sure he understood that in my books, women want to nurse babies all day and get hit with riding crops, while the men go out and DO stuff, like drop bombs and shoot people. Except — not only would that be a lie, but also cruel, dishing out sarcasm to Fredo. By storming away from me, he made it clear he wasn’t ready to discuss much more than his own feelings of inadequacy and that giant chip on his shoulder. In another context, Fredo could be a KKK member or an ISIS combatant, or pick your fanatical fundamentalist movement, predicated upon strict gender roles, male dominance, and this idea that heterosexual men are inherently violent.

And where did Fredo ever get the idea that Betsy DeVos was in favor of replacing female teachers with male teachers? That was a new one for me.

It does sadden me to know that Fredo probably *did* write a great war story in school, and a female teacher probably *did* tell him he was wrong to want to write about violence, and someone probably *did* put him on medication as a result, and the whole episode probably felt like a punishment. That does not justify Fredo’s beliefs, or his language, but it does provide the reasoning for his views.

Speaking of war stories, this afternoon, I spent some time working on a new opening date for Book II in Mark of the Pterren. I don’t have a working title for this novel yet, I just call it Mark of the Pterren: Book II.

I wrote a first draft of this book a few years ago, which I used to help write the final drafts of Book I. I had originally started Book II a few weeks after Terrence Davin returns home to Mirador, but as I started working on this project again last week, I realized the sequel begins two days after he arrives home.

Which meant I needed to calculate the specific day of the month that would be, so I can print that date in my chapter headings.

According to my calculations, Terrence Davin arrives home in Mirador on April 12, 2415. This is the final full day of Book I.

The novel actually *ends* in the early-morning hours of April 13, 2415.

Immediately after Book I ends, Terrence spends the entire day of April 13 doing a number of administrative things — and Book II begins the following morning, shortly before dawn — on April 14, 2415.

Which made my heart start beating SO HARD with excitement. Because here is something I know as an author, but these facts wouldn’t make any sense to share in the story.

April 14, 1912 — the date the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg, just before midnight. The ship sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

April 14, 1865 — the date John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln. Who died on the morning of April 15, 1865.

April 14 is a symbolic date. Mark of the Pterren is a story about civil war, and what happens when things fall apart. (Namely, that people die. Especially poor people. Whether they are infantrymen used as cannon fodder, or passengers riding in steerage. No matter the crisis, the poor always die in the highest numbers.)

(It’s a good thing Fredo is not reading this blog post. Not a nursing fact in sight, anywhere in this post. For shame.)

I haven’t just been working on Mark of the Pterren this week — I also spent some time on my sixth novel, which is a ghost story/murder mystery. My YA fantasy, Kinned to the Sea is scheduled to be turned in on Friday, February 17 to start the process of formatting the ebook.

And Bloodshade of the Goddess is still available as a free ebook on Smashwords! On Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the ebook costs $2.99. A HUGE thank you to everyone who shares a review for this book on Amazon or on Goodreads! And if you download the ebook from Smashwords, please leave a review there — you can post the same review for a book on multiple sites. Reviews are vital to all authors, whether they are traditionally-published or self-published — but for writers who have zero marketing dollars (or zero dollars in general, like moi) reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are the water canteens in the Sahara of life. All water canteens are most appreciated!! Stainless steel canteens decorated with Sailor Moon stickers are preferred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hey Look, There Is a New Pretty Thing in This Blog, Come and See

I seem to have a LOT of writer-news to share lately. Which makes my life feel pretty weird, seeing so many projects come to completion at the same time. This is not my normal at all.

My normal is more like, la la la, I’m drinking coffee and staring at the same page of a Word doc for three hours straight, trying to edit one paragraph, isn’t life awesome, la la la.

As in, I generally feel the opposite of productive.

So here are a few announcements I need to make, because I kind of have a lot going on.

First, the paperback for Mark of the Pterren is now available. I’ve even updated my page for this book — which makes me feel super proud. Nothing like updating my website to make everything feel official.

The paperback book, however, is rather expensive, and I apologize about that. The biggest drawback of publishing a book via print on demand is that customers pay a much bigger premium for the product. It’s a lot cheaper to market a book when a company can have a large print-run of a title. Mark of the Pterren is a big book, with a lot of paper, and paper is super expensive. The price listed for this novel was the lowest CreateSpace allowed me to set, so I wanted my readers to know I didn’t suddenly decide to raise the price of this book through the roof so I could go buy a truckload of cheese. (Mmmm…. cheese.)

My Reading Angel, April Duclos, ordered this book and shared this photograph with me on Facebook, which turned me into a puddle of mushy joy splattered all over the floor —

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, that is Totoro sitting beside The Etiquette of Wolves in her lap. Can you tell how much bigger Mark of the Pterren is from my other two books?

Here is another picture April shared, so you can see the dimensions of the new paperback even better —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totoro is guarding my books on April’s shelf, which makes me super-giggly. I could stare at these two photos forever.

Starting in June and July of 2016, I started waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety, a condition a lot of other people suffer from, so I don’t claim that this makes me special. I end up with insomnia some nights, and as 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, my cure has been to just push myself to stay awake longer and longer, working as far into the night as I can. Some nights, this has meant I go to bed around 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. It’s created a lot of stress between me and Greg, as he is not a fan of my new work habits. I don’t know what my problem is, other than the root of it seems to be an irrational fear that I have unpaid bills, triggered by the terror that I haven’t been paying my student loans.

In June of 2016, I paid off the last of my student loans — so I have no more monthly payment to make — and that’s why I say the root of my anxiety is completely irrational. I have the house payments for my mom’s house to oversee, I have the constant threat that my mom is going to lose her home — but I’ve managed that stress for years now. It didn’t suddenly crop up in 2016. But every time my anxiety gets really out of control, and I grapple with it, the root is always, “I forgot to pay my student loans!” And I have to tell myself, over and over, “Remember though, remember, you paid off your student loans, and you’ve logged in to that account two hundred times to make sure, and that’s over now, that bill isn’t there anymore.” But the anxiety just comes right back, waking me up in the middle of the night. “I didn’t pay my student loan bill this month!” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

All I can say is, there is so much pressure, financial strain, on my life all the time, coupled with the overwhelming sense of failure — that I’ve failed my life, that I’m not doing anything “useful,” that I’m wasting my precious time on this earth, that I made the wrong decisions at every point when the stakes were the highest, and that’s why those threatening foreclosure notices keep arriving at my door, provoking my anxiety to attack me —

And then I see Mark of the Pterren sitting on a shelf next to Totoro, and that intense pressure eases a bit, enough that I can breathe, or at least feel a little less miserable as I face the newest pile of foreclosure paperwork on my table. This house hasn’t been lost to the bank for four years now. I’m hoping 2017 is another win against the forces of destruction.

My second big piece of writer-news is that Bloodshade of the Goddess is now available as an ebook!!!

My friend Gus Reyna bought the book for his kindle, and sent me this picture of the cover on his e-reader this morning —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I tried to make this ebook FREE on Amazon, but the site wouldn’t let me. But I WAS able to make this book FREE on Smashwords!! So if you want to download this one for zero monies, you totally can! Here is my page with the links for this book, to find the book on Amazon and Smashwords. I’m hoping to have the ebook available on Barnes & Noble soon, too. I ran into a problem trying to upload the cover image yesterday, because Barnes & Noble changed their file size requirements, so I have to reformat my cover for their site, and then that book will be available there, too.

Bloodshade of the Goddess is urban fantasy — and I know that genre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In my own writer-brain, I think of urban fantasy as “novelized comic books,” because the main characters of urban fantasy are a lot like traditional comic book heroes — versions of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men — and in modern urban fantasy, there’s been a huge push-back from fans of the genre for more diversity in the characters. Instead of white, middle-class, heterosexual characters, readers are asking authors to deliver stories that represent characters with different skin colors, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different sexual orientations and gender expressions, different body sizes, different physical attributes and abilities, and different types of neurodiversity, too.

Bloodshade of the Goddess is a book written for those kinds of readers — fans of urban fantasy who want the genre to be more inclusive of society as a whole. As an author, and as a human being, I keep searching for places where I can push boundaries and expand my own thinking, both in my personal life and in my art. Bloodshade is a book in which I made attempts to push myself. This is a “novelized comic book” that delivers something a bit to the left of the norm.

My third writer-announcement today is that my cover for my fifth novel, Kinned to the Sea, is finished, and here it is making its official debut on my blog —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends who saw me share this on Facebook have said it’s my “best cover yet,” and that makes me so happy to hear!! I love all my book covers, but not everyone thinks my covers are as spiffy as I do. We all know that books sell BY their covers — which means, they are also read FOR their covers. And I really hope people read Kinned to the Sea. If this cover is pretty enough to make people look at the first page of this book, then it has achieved the fantastic. There is no greater honor for a piece of cover art than to entice someone to look at page one.

For those of you who might be curious about how the Standing on the Side of Love March went on Saturday, January 21 — it was SPECTACULAR. And covered the front page of the local newspaper, The Durango Herald, the next day. I would share more about that event, but I wanted to get some of this writer-news off my chest, so my readers know that I’ve launched a new ebook they can download for free and enjoy.

I share my thanks in advance to anyone who can leave a review for Bloodshade of the Goddess on Amazon or on Goodreads. (You do not need to purchase the book on Amazon in order to leave a review — just reading the book and leaving an honest opinion is all that’s required.) Please feel free to share the Smashwords link for the ebook with everyone you know who might have an interest in fantasy — I made the ebook available for free to encourage readers to download the book and enjoy it, not because I put any less work into my fourth novel than my other books. Bloodshade was another time-consuming labor of love, though I’m still really grateful that it’s only one-third the length of Mark of the Pterren. Pterren was such a monster to write! ^.^

I hope all my Thought Candy readers have a great weekend! And thanks for staying tuned in to my blog! Happy reading!

 

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Opinions Flying Around in the Parking Lot, Also Known As Free Advice No One Asked For

Hello, Thought Candy readers! Loyal followers of this sorta-yes-pretty-random author blog.

I have some announcements to make.

(For those of you who follow my author page on Facebook, the first announcement will not be a surprise. Unfortunately, I’ve been remiss in announcing this news on my blog, since I was trying to be more involved with my Facebook page this year. But my favorite place to be is my blog, so I’m really sorry it’s taken me so long to share this in a post!)

My urban fantasy, Bloodshade of the Goddess, now has a cover —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m so excited to have a new book cover! All the symbols on this one play important roles in the story, and I’m thrilled by how sparkly and pretty this cover looks!

I’m in the process of having the ebook for Bloodshade of the Goddess formatted right now, and that work should be done soon.

I’ve decided that when this ebook is finished, I will list this novel for free, in the hope that my fans will let their friends know there’s a super-high-quality urban fantasy they can download for zero monies. The ebook of Bloodshade of the Goddess will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. I will share the links with you all, once I have them.

In other Big Author News: Mark of the Pterren will be available as a paperback book very soon!! Due to the massive time commitment of formatting a book, and my personal financial constraints, there is always a delay between when I can afford to launch an ebook and when I can have the paperback ready. I’m super, super relieved that my work for the paperback edition of Mark of the Pterren is almost finished, because wow the effort required for anything involving Mark of the Pterren is enormous.

For those of you who took a chance on that book, read it, posted a review on Amazon, and shared that book with your friends — I SERIOUSLY. CANNOT THANK YOU. ENOUGH. You are my happy place. You are the people who make me feel proud when other things in my life are not-so-great.

Sometimes the world is such a mean and bitter place, and then I think of my little fan base of readers, and I feel happy again. I’m always grateful that I have a group of fans who might not like the different genres I write in, but they’re willing to keep up with my work even if a particular book isn’t for them. Pterren and Bloodshade are two very different books, which are both very different from The Etiquette of Wolves and Love and Student Loans and Other Big Problems. My canon is much like this sorta-yes-pretty-random author blog. Kind of all over the place with the weirdness.

Which brings me to my fifth book, Kinned to the Sea, a Young Adult fantasy set in the ocean, starring mer-people. I’m working on the cover for that book right now, and I’m hoping that I’ll have another new cover to share on my blog before the end of the month. This would be **extremely fantastic** so my fingers are definitely crossed. I’ve poured a lot of hours into all three of these big projects this month — 1. the ebook for Bloodshade, 2. the paperback of Pterren, 3. the cover for Kinned. I’m sooooo thankful that I have readers out there who are looking forward to seeing these projects finished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Especially since I had a harsh conversation with an acquaintance in town last week, involving my books. Three years ago, this woman attended a few critique meetings with me, and then left the group, saying she had more pressing things to do with her time, like travel to Costa Rica, Italy, and Australia. She did take all those trips, and many others after that, because sometimes she would email me pictures of her adventures. I enjoyed seeing her pictures, and staying loosely connected with her and her life. Last week, when we ran into each other in person again, the woman asked me if I’d given up on “that ridiculous flying-people book,” and I told her no, not only had I not given up on it, but I’d published it. The woman gave me a horrified look, and asked, “Who in the hell would publish THAT?” and I calmly said that I’d self-published the book.

She blinked at me in shock, with her mouth hanging open, and then she rallied to ask, “So is anyone even BUYING that book? How many copies have you sold?”

And I thought about how many bestselling books I have read that I didn’t enjoy, and how often we equate money with quality, especially in the art world. As if nothing can ever be beautiful, or valuable, or good, unless lots and lots of other people say so, and someone can prove it by citing sales figures.

I admitted to this woman that I had some friends who’d read the book, and that they’d shared the book with their friends, and I felt happy that my book had been shared by my friends.

The woman crossed her arms and went into battle-mode. A stance I’ve seen so many times, I just knew I was in for it. Hell hath no fury like a fellow writer who thinks you write crap.

We were standing outside a grocery store, and this woman raised her voice to make sure the passers-by with their boxes of donuts could all hear. “You know what your problem is, Melissa? You know where a period goes, and you think that it matters. You spend all this time spell-checking and worrying about where commas go, and you have no idea how to write. You don’t know what sounds good, or what a good story is. You think fussing around with quotation marks makes any difference, like any reader cares about where quotation marks go. If you were a good writer, you’d realize you should worry about writing something GOOD first, a good story that someone would actually *want* to read, and then hire a copyeditor to fuss with the grammar. But no, you think people care about commas and periods, and that’s why your books are never going to sell.”

So I just stood there looking something like this —

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing that it wouldn’t have made any difference to tell this woman that I cannot afford a copyeditor, as I’m sure she would come back with something like, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be writing.”

I understand where she’s coming from, in that grammar problems stand out to me like red flashing signs in the text, the kind of signs that come with a computerized voice that says, “Warning, warning, warning.” One or two errors in a chapter are easy to blow off, but when the errors mount up, with more than 30 grammar problems per page, my concentration gets ruined. I’m suddenly mired in pronoun confusion, or I can’t tell who is speaking, or whether the brown-haired character who is speaking is the same person as the blonde-haired woman on the previous page. I stumble so hard through the words that my comprehension cannot keep up.

This is not always the case, because sometimes I read truly messy stuff and feel swept along by the story. The voice in the prose can do a lot to negate any issues with grammar.

It would be nice to be able to hire a copyeditor. Or any kind of editor, for that matter. It would also be nice to travel to Costa Rica, Italy, and Australia. We do what we can. Some of us are more limited than others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just makes us different. I approach my editing needs in a different way than this woman does. From her point of view, her way is better. And maybe that’s true, or maybe we’re just different, and all roads still lead to Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Opinions Flying Around in the Parking Lot, Also Known As Free Advice No One Asked For

  1. It sounds to me as if this woman is just one of those people who can’t be happy without putting others down, and feels threatened by your successes when she’s given up on ever having successes of her own. You’ve persevered when she hasn’t, and she can’t stand that.

    Judging by her words, it may be that she’s been grasping at what she thinks would be a good idea, and discarded every idea she’s had, giving up before even starting.

    I love Bloodshade of the Goddess by the way!

  2. Well I, for one, totally enjoyed your flying people. I, for one, am totally on board with reading the next flying people book. And not just because I kind of like you. ūüėČ

  3. Melissa….please keep writing, I enjoy your books and blog hugely!!! I always have 2 to 3 books I’m reading at the same time and yours have been among the favored in my virtual library. They aren’t maybe the best I’ve read but saying that, they are entertaining and informative and a real pleasure. Also, your skill improves with each release. “Mark” was the best you’ve done so far…really got into the characters, loved it lots! And I’m not a sci-fi reader, but you got me.
    You know what your real problem is? It’s that you care about your product, to me that’s not a problem at all!!!

    Keep going for it and reach for your star no matter where this journey leads, just don’t let the nay-Sayers turn you away.

    GW

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I Organized a March, Because I Could

Hello, Thought Candy readers! The New Year has arrived, and I already have all kinds of fun planned!!

Or just general shenanigans of the caffeine-infused. Which would be me — nefarious rodent girl, packing coffee, at your service.

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I have organized a march in Durango, Colorado, to take place at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

The march is called the Standing on the Side of Love March. For those of you on Facebook, you can link to the event page here.

Anyone who can share that event on Facebook, and encourage people to RSVP online to this march, has my sincere gratitude.

Here is the pertinent information about this event:

Gather in front of the train station in Durango, Colorado, on Saturday, January 21, 2017, at 11:30 a.m. to help spread a message of love and compassion the day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. We will march north on Main Avenue at 12:00 p.m. and participate in a gathering at Buckley Park. This event is open to anyone to attend, especially anyone who feels scared or threatened right now.

This Standing on the Side of Love March is to promote love and compassion for all people, no matter their political affiliation or personal beliefs. Participants are welcome to carry signs and banners to show their support for different organizations, groups of people, and ideals they believe in. The gathering at Buckley Park will end at 1:20 p.m. so that participants may attend an event called RESPOND. Held at the Smiley building in Durango, RESPOND will feature a full day of free classes pertaining to social, political, and economic justice issues in the Four Corners region.

A lot of people have helped make this march happen. Some donated money. Some donated their time. Some are helping to get the word out in big ways.

I’ve never spent so much time organizing something this large for the benefit of an entire community — a free event, put on for strangers, with no strings attached. Not paid for by the government, or any organization, but a product of individuals who often don’t even know each other, all saying, “Let’s do this!” So, we are doing this.

If you live in the Durango area, I hope you will come! I hope you will march with me to promote love and compassion for all. I’ll be pulling a little wagon behind me, with a portable speaker and mic, chanting love slogans and being a weirdo. Because I really do love this big messy world, and all the different people who inhabit it, and if that means I need to close Main Street in Durango, and drag a wagon behind me yelling stuff like, “2, 4, 6, 8, only love can stop the hate” — to let the world know all my feels, then I will.

My poor husband is worried about me. He knows I want to chant things like, “4, 3, 2, 1, love was made for everyone,” and he worries for me even more, that scary people might show up and do scary things. Which could always happen with anything, no matter what you have planned. So I say, “Don’t worry, Greg, this will be great! All these wonderful people are coming!” And it’s true! There’s a whole tribe of people who want to come walk with each other to promote love for all people — how utterly fabulous!

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One thought on “I Organized a March, Because I Could

  1. Pingback: » I Went to a Fractious Town Hall, and So Did Princess Sparkles

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Eggnog-holism and Dysfunctional Movie Nights

So, everyone. November 2016. Turned out to be rather intense.

There was the presidential election. And the fallout of the election. I had a lot of family obligations and duties this month, and then more family duties, and work-wise, my life pretty much felt like a train wreck.

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Cut off for so many days from my familiar and comforting writing routine, I fell into despair. I chugged a lot of eggnog. I wanted to fall apart good and proper, like Homer on a drunk —

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But only managed to make my face break out in mountains of acne, due to all of the sugar-bomb eggnog, and then I obsessively read a bunch of really lame books, so I could have an excuse not to sleep, and then justify chugging more eggnog.

Today, however, I was home alone, a hermit again. I like being home, I like being alone all day, and even though November was pretty difficult for a vast number of reasons, I did something cool on Thanksgiving.

After all of my family duties, and social duties, were finished for the day, I came home to my husband, and we watched the news together, and then I decided to stay on the couch with him for a movie night.

Greg and I haven’t watched a movie together in a loooooooong time. Not at home or in a theater. The movie I chose to put on is one of my favorites, the 2006 Bryan Singer film, Superman Returns.

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I watched Superman Returns at least four times in the theater, when I lived in Ouray, because this movie played at the old opera house in town, which was easy to walk to and charged a standard $7.00 for an adult ticket. So I harassed a lot of people to see this film with me on various nights that it played, because I fell in love with this movie, and wanted everyone else to love it as well.

Ten years later, I still love this movie. Having written five novels in those intervening ten years, I can analyze the film in ways I couldn’t at age 26, and there are a few scenes of earthquake-shaking near the end that I would’ve cut. Same with the beginning of the movie. But those are minor, minor things, mere seconds of time within the overall film.

This movie has so much texture and emotion layered into the scenes. Moments of humor and quiet feeling. Lines that still move my heart. If movies could be described as falling into two camps the way novels do — either as literary or genre fiction, highbrow or commercial books — then Superman Returns would be upmarket literary fiction — a movie with carefully subtle details woven into each scene, but with a big melodramatic plot to carry the story along. It’s the kind of movie I can never get enough of, and I remain enchanted and thrilled by this film.

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If you haven’t seen Superman (1978) or Superman II (1980), then Superman Returns might be kind of weird. Bryan Singer adores both those movies, and you can tell how much he loves them when the story picks up with his 2006 creation. I love all the small and large things Mr. Singer did to update the characters for a 21st century audience — most especially, that Lois Lane is tougher and smarter, but still very human and flawed.

I admit I’m someone who gets misty-eyed when I hear the Superman theme music John Williams composed. Whether as a dorky sixth-grader belting out this music in band class, an awkward teenager watching the Christopher Reeve movies, or a barely-functioning adult swept away in the auditory wonders of the 2006 film, I bought the soundtrack of Superman Returns right after I saw the film, having instantly fallen in love with the updated music as well.

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On Thanksgiving Day, after staying up late to re-watch this film, I went online and read Gary D. Engle’s fantastic 1987 essay, What Makes Superman So Darned American? — which you can read here. It’s a spectacular essay, and touches on all the major mythology points Superman fans love so hard — first and foremost, that Superman is an illegal alien, an immigrant raised in the United States. That he is an orphan adopted into a foreign culture by strangers. That he grows up in a small town in Kansas, on a farm, and then moves to the city of Metropolis as an adult. That he navigates the world with dual identities, and embodies in his person the tension between assimilation and history, reinvention and roots, mirroring the struggle of America and its many immigrant families.

But what I love MOST about this essay is its examination of the religious mythology in Superman. Starting with this paragraph —

When Joe Shuster inked the first Superman stories, in the early thirties when he was still a student at Cleveland’s Glenville High School, Superman was strictly beefcake in tights, looking more like a circus acrobat than the ultimate Man of Steel. By June of 1938 when Action Comics no. 1 was issued, the image had been altered to include a cape, ostensibly to make flight easier to render in the pictures. But it wasn’t the cape of Victorian melodrama and adventure fiction, the kind worn with a clasp around the neck. In fact, one is hard-pressed to find any precedent in popular culture for the kind of cape Superman wears. His emerges in a seamless line from either side of the front yoke of his tunic. It is a veritable growth from behind his pectorals and hangs, when he stands at ease, in a line that doesn’t so much drape his shoulders as stand apart from them and echo their curve, like an angel’s wings.

This is the kind of detail that makes me snap to attention, all systems go. I love religious mythology — and religious iconography — of any kind. But the fascination with angel iconography carries a special attraction. I couldn’t write a sci-fi novel about winged warriors if I didn’t feel such excitement over the angels of God, whether warring or falling or guarding that which God has created. Endlessly thrilling. I fangirl all over essays like this.

And this one just gets even better —

In light of this graphic detail, it seems hardly coincidental that Superman’s real, Kryptonic name is Kal-El, an apparent neologism by George Lowther, the author who novelized the comic strip in 1942. In Hebrew, el can be both root and affix. As a root, it is the masculine singular word for God. Angels in Hebrew mythology are called benei Elohim (literally, sons of the Gods), or Elyonim (higher beings). As an affix, el is most often translated as “of God,” as in the plenitude of Old Testament given names: Ishma-el, Dani-el, Ezeki-el, Samu-el, etc. It is also a common form for named angels in most Semitic mythologies: Israf-el, Aza-el, Uri-el, Yo-el, Rapha-el, Gabri-el and–the one perhaps most like Superman– Micha-el, the warrior angel and Satan’s principal adversary.

Any discussion of the Hebrew Bible takes me to my Happy Place, because I can hear my college advisor speaking these terms in Greek, and then Hebrew, in his deep professorial voice, quoting Biblical lines from memory, a result of assiduous academic study as well as personal love. He adored language so much, and when he would laugh, he would light up the whole room, as we turned a critical, historical eye to these words.

I wish everyone could study the Bible with my college advisor. Because while he was always hyper-critical of the text, and bore down on everything with intense scrutiny, he also possessed such a love for the words he examined so closely, so obsessively — and love like that blends into people in powerful ways. I cherish a great many things in this world because someone else taught me how to love them — and with the Bible, hearing my advisor’s love of ancient Hebrew and Greek kept me hooked.

Mr. Engle continues his examination of Superman’s Kryptonic name by saying this —

The morpheme Kal bears a linguistic relation to two Hebrew roots. The first, kal, means “with lightness” or “swiftness” (faster than a speeding bullet in Hebrew?). It also bears a connection to the root hal, where h is the guttural ch of chutzpah. Hal translates roughly as “everything” or “all.” Kal-el, then, can be read as “all that is God,” or perhaps more in the spirit of the myth of Superman, “all that God is.” And while we’re at it, Kent is a form of the Hebrew kala. In its k-n-t form, the word appears in the Bible, meaning “I have found a son.”

Mr. Engle’s insightful and excellent commentary, which leads to his closing analysis that Superman is “like nothing so much as an American boy’s fantasy of a messiah” — definitely informed the movie Superman Returns. In visual scenes and in dialogue, the religious mythology quietly expressed in the comic books is present throughout the film. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the movie so much.

The day after Thanksgiving, the 2013 film Man of Steel was on TV, so I asked Greg if he wanted to have another movie night. Greg gave me a pained look and then growled like a rabid bear, and I decided that we would watch Man of Steel.

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For the next two-plus hours, Greg’s savage growling and severe displeasure grew more pronounced. He’d never seen Man of Steel before, and he hated it. I’d seen the movie once before, in the theater, and remembered telling myself, “Never watch that again.” But after reading Mr. Engle’s essay on Thanksgiving, I was curious about the religious symbolism employed in Man of Steel.

Amidst Greg’s constant pronouncements of, “This movie sucks!” and “Why are we watching this??” and loud groans of boredom, I suffered through a joyless, humorless Superman movie, a film that is, as Greg kept proclaiming, “Totally cheesy.” The cheese in the first half of the movie is thick and pungent; every scene set in Smallville feels especially painful to watch. The second half of the movie descends into nonstop action drained of all meaning. So many people die in this film, I go numb. If Superman is the messiah, he’s a goddamn awful one in Man of Steel.

While I do love Russell Crowe, who looks smokin’ hot in this film, his role as Jor-El cannot redeem this grim and ugly cheese-fest of a movie. Gone is the farm-to-city¬† transition of boy to man. Gone is the weakling cipher reporter, Clark Kent. Gone is the sweetness and innocence of the comic books, as well as the comedic verve of the earlier films. Gone is the subtle religious iconography, replaced with Superman-as-Jesus imagery that is as blatant and heavy as a sledgehammer.¬†

Greg was so frustrated with me for forcing him to watch this “cheerless and stupid movie,” that I went into the kitchen and chugged more eggnog. Then he said he should never have agreed to watching that horrible film, and I yelled, “No, Greg!” which is my standard comeback for everything, and he growled some more and I said, “Gahhhhhh!” and he told me all I do is make him suffer and I said, “Gahhhhhh!” again but much louder, then I ran out of eggnog and that sucked.

Moral of the story: I’ve been really bad with time-management in November and wasted a lot of time drinking eggnog. However, I regret nothing. Not even making my husband suffer so much. Also, I plan to start researching ninja history soon. I’m excited for this.

In book news: Mark of the Pterren is undergoing its conversion into a paperback book! I’ll keep you updated on that. And my graphic designer might start work on the cover for Bloodshade of the Goddess this week. And my mer novel, Kinned to the Sea, is undergoing a final round of revisions. I’ve finished around 22,000 words of my next project, a murder mystery ghost story. I never thought I’d write a ghost story but so goes my life with the weirdness. Thank you to everyone who left an Amazon review for Pterren!! They are such wonderful reviews and I love how thoughtful they are! I’m really looking forward to writing the sequels — the world of the pterren is never far from my mind.

And now, onward through the rest of December! Another busy, busy month; the eggnog beckons.

 

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Scary People, Writing News, and This Trip I Made in July

Today is October 22, 2016, and for over a month this fall, my life wasn’t really my own. I was taking care of someone in a scary situation, a young mother with an infant who decided she needed to break up with her boyfriend. The now-ex-boyfriend is the child’s father, and he is a verbally and emotionally abusive individual. He also becomes physically violent, and in order to keep everyone safe, I dealt with the police a lot, spent a long time away from home, and did other things that are frightening and uncomfortable.

So it’s been a strange autumn for me. To occupy a space of constant mental and physical danger does wonky things to the human mind. Perceptions change, and the basic necessities of survival dominate life. I was also scared to fall asleep at night, I woke up one morning to this violent individual trying to kick down the front door, and I was constantly swimming through a heavy sea of emotions, because when a baby is involved, everything becomes so much more harrowing.

In the culture at large, there are a lot of people like this gentleman loose in the world. People who cannot claim responsibility for their own behavior, or their own mental state. They are most fond of statements like this: “YOU made me do this.” “YOU need to obey me, or I will hurt you.” “YOU make me so angry, I have to hurt you.” And the most popular mantra of every abuser I’ve ever known: “This is all YOUR fault.”

This violent individual didn’t appear in my life overnight. And the situation still isn’t resolved. As a writer, I admit that in May, this person caused me such acute pain that a new set of characters came to life in my head, because this is what my mind does with my trauma: it invents a new story to draw the pain out. I think all human minds operate this way, and writers just grow accustomed to the schizophrenic quality of this coping technique. Inside a writer’s skull, the voices we all have in our heads become distinct people, with wishes and minds of their own.

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In May, this abusive man hurt someone I love very much, and the extreme pain this caused me flashed to wrath very quickly, a rage I could never express to him. Because this is something else I know of abusers: they want you to throw gasoline on their fire. They name-call and curse and belittle and threaten and spread pain in order to provoke other people to engage in their hell — the Hell they’ve made for themselves inside their own minds.

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I do not engage. Even though, in the face of anger, more anger is often seen as strength. But this is also an escalation of violence, and when fighting a fire, throwing gasoline on the flames isn’t helpful.

So my mind invents characters instead, and I channel my wrath into story. All summer, while I finished my YA novel (Kinned to the Sea), my new rage-inspired characters wanted to take over. In September, the moment I finished the third draft of my fifth book, these characters took over my mind, and now I have the problem of too many projects to juggle. But I’m trying to manage. My urban fantasy (Bloodshade of the Goddess) is finished, and I’m moving forward with cover art, so I can format that novel into an ebook. Mark of the Pterren was sent to CreateSpace this week, beginning the process of turning that novel into a print book. And my newest draft of Kinned to the Sea was sent to four new beta-readers this week. Since I only have two willing beta-readers left after these readers are finished, I’ll reach the end of the line — my editing line — on that manuscript soon.

I did send out my first query letter for that book this week, even though it stars mer people, and publishers don’t want anything to do with mermaids right now.

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As muddled and dissatisfying as my progress feels, I still wanted to celebrate. To take a moment away from my work to think about something else. So I thought I would distract myself with some pictures this morning. I went on a long car trip in July, out to California and Oregon to visit family with my husband, and I never shared pictures of that trip on my blog. So here are some photographs to share, and a piece of my life that involves no abuse, only whimsy.

On our way from Colorado to California, we drove through Utah, at the same time I was reading Amy Irvine’s memoir, Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land. I wrote a review for this book, which you can read here — and we passed through Monticello, Utah, one of the settings for this book. After Amy Irvine moved away, a wind farm was built there. I took a picture —

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Greg and I stopped for lunch in Moab, Utah, and I took a picture of the gelato display at the Moab Brewery —

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I didn’t purchase any, but the flavors included French Toast, Jack Daniel’s chocolate chip, marshmallow frappuccino, and peach mint lemonade.

Once we arrived in California, I stayed with my youngest brother, Dale, his wife, Jessica, and their daughter, Elana Belle. They live in a town called San Ramon, which is about an hour east of San Francisco. I am so proud of my little brother I pretty much explode with the feels whenever I’m with him.

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Greg spent a few days with one of his friends, who lives in Tiburon, a pretty place with a view of San Francisco.

I spent time hanging out in and around San Ramon, and checked out the dealership service center where my brother works as a mechanic —

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My brother is technically not my child, but I can’t help showing off these pictures of him like he is —

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I spent some time playing in the dirt with Elana —

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We gathered up this huge pile of seeds, because why not. I brought one of them home with me as a souvenir.

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I wanted to buy Elana a Totoro from the Disney store at the mall, but when we went to the mall, the store didn’t have any Studio Ghibli memorabilia. We did, however, find this awesome rosemary bush growing next to the playground at the mall. We played there during sunset, watching a full moon rise over a soft purple sky, and my camera had a hard time capturing this rosemary bush in the dim light —

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Jessica and I were so enchanted by the smell of this plant, which filled the air with the scents of white pine, sage, and mountain mint. A strong and beautiful odor. I called the smell “Colorado.” I called the smell “home.” Jessica agreed.

I took this picture of Elana on my last night in town, on our way to eat cheeseburgers —

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We went outside to play afterward —

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My niece is so adorable, this blog post could just explode from the cuteness —

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Here is a picture of me with Jessica, and I’m wearing the same Nine Inch Nails shirt I’ve sported almost every day for the past seven years. I’m just awesome with fashion choices like that —

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After we left California, my husband and I drove to Portland, Oregon, to visit his daughter, Rachel, and her boyfriend, Tucker.¬†Just look at how cute they are standing in front of this house they were renting —

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Cutest hipster couple ever, I think —

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Of course, I spent a lot of time in Powell’s Books downtown. I hadn’t been inside the store since their big remodel, and it was ABSOLUTELY THRILLING to be in the new store. I took a picture of Greg and Rachel to commemorate the magnificence of the day —

100_2630 This pic is great, in Powell's Bookstore

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since we couldn’t stay with Rachel and Tucker, I had to Hotwire a room, and we ended up staying at The Heathman Hotel downtown, a block from Pioneer Square. The hotel room was super tiny. I took a picture of the bathroom. Don’t ask me why —

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Also, I took this picture of the sink. For such a tiny space, I liked all the design elements on display, especially all the circles. I’ve always loved circular mirrors —

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After our first night at The Heathman, we woke up to find out there was an electric car show taking place at Pioneer Square, so Greg and I took a stroll through all the cars with electric engines on display. A lot of the vehicles were older ones with their engines swapped out, but there were also some more futuristic types to be seen —

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We went to the restaurant where Rachel works, and had brunch there one morning. Greg ordered this meal of fried chicken on a pancake with spicy maple syrup —

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The idea of eating that was so repulsive to me, I took a picture of it. Fried chicken on a pancake isn’t appealing to me at all. Ew.

While in Portland, I took a drive with Greg and Rachel to Lewis and Clark College, because I’d never visited that campus before. Since it was summer, the grounds were pretty quiet, with some kind of fundraising luncheon taking place at the president’s building. Rachel went into the college library with me, and upstairs, I found this stained glass window I liked a lot, so I took a picture —

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Later that night, Greg and I decided it was time to try our first bowls of pho, the super-popular Vietnamese dish of broth, rice noodles, herbs, vegetables, and which frequently is made with a variety of meats. We met up with our friend Donny that night, whose father was Greg’s best man at our wedding —

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Donny is an aspiring author. I suggested he write a novel like Sweetbitter from the male bartender’s point of view, because Donny is one hell of a good mixologist as well as a great bartender.

The next morning, we left Portland with Rachel, and drove to the Oregon coast. We camped outside Lincoln City, which was packed with tourists —

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I walked around barefoot a while, it was nice —

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We slept in a tent for two nights, and Rachel stayed in her own tent beside us, but the KOA also had these cute little cabins to rent —

100_2649 cabin at the KOA at Lincoln City

 

 

 

 

 

 

My photograph stream ends here for now, but one of my favorite parts of this trip is yet to come, when I traveled up and down the Oregon coast with Rachel and Greg. In total, we were out of town for two weeks in July, with our first week spent in California, and our second week in Oregon.

I couldn’t even finish typing this post without receiving another phone call concerning the abusive man I’ve been dealing with, the individual who makes my heart race and fills my stomach with acid. My prayers and love go out to everyone else facing a situation like this, whether it’s stalking or physical violence or a verbal and emotional assault. I well know how draining and debilitating abusers are on someone’s mental health, and the physical danger they put people in. There is no other word but horror for this kind of intimate violence, and like everyone else who has been in my shoes, I cling to the hope that one day it will end.

Sunset over mountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Scary People, Writing News, and This Trip I Made in July

  1. All I can say is “Thank you so much for helping her and baby” you truly are a hero in this regard, especially. Tried to warn her but was not received well at the time, so glad you and others were there for her. Lots of folks sending positive feelings your way.
    I used to live on the Oregon Coast, it’s an amazing place for sure, good to see pics of it again. Portland is one of the coolest places, as far as innovative concepts and conscienceness out there, don’t ya think?
    Again thanks for these notes and we’ll lift you guys up in thoughts for getting this situ. resolved.

    GW

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