London: Day Three

Today is election day, and I woke up in London again to sunlight and fall colors and the tap of room service delivering morning coffee. Since being here I have seen more coverage on the election than at home and I’m not sure what that means, but I do know this: the whole world is watching the US right now. I would be remiss not to say, even here, even living a dream, I too am unable to forget the reality of this day for America. But my feed today, and for the coming days, will remain a break, an escape, a moment away from the political battleground.

Yesterday began with a trip on the Tube, again. I’m growing really fond of the Underground, learning the routes and the best transfer stations. So far I’ve ridden the Piccadilly, District and Circle lines. I find the easiest way to survive public transport is to let your body feel the rhythm of the crowd. Be prepared with your card (called an Oyster card here, a Metro card in NYC) and never stop in front of stalls or in corridors. If you must pause, pull off to the side and get out of everyone’s way, otherwise, you’ll learn why locals hate tourists. Same goes for stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo, or, worse, wandering into the crosswalk.

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We traveled north to Kings Cross. Yep. That one. Where the Hogwarts Express takes young wizards-in-training to study. I was the epitome of not cool when we walked up the stairs from the train. However, we were bound not for Platform 9 3/4 (more on that later!), but the Treasures of the British Library exhibit where we would see, in short:

Jane Austen’s writing desk and hand written manuscript for Persuasion

Mozart, Chopin, Handel’s Messiah and so many more composers original sheet music

Shakespeare’s sonnets

A Gutenberg Bible

Ancient Maps

Early prints from China

Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript pages for Jane Eyre and letters

T.S. Elliot’s Waste Land

The Magna Carta

Handwritten lyrics to some of the Beatles most famous hits including: She Said, She Said, Ticket to Ride, and a Hard Days Night

Leonardo Di Vinci’s Notebook

…and so much more.

Photographs were not allowed, but here’s a few from the Library to prove we were there.

This was a singular experience. We spent about two hours inside the exhibit and could have stayed for more if we’d had time. I walked away with deep wells of inspiration digging through me, and plenty of notes to mull over later on.

Next, we headed back to Kings Cross where we…well, you can probably guess what we were planning to do. Both my husband and I are fans of Harry Potter. I’d read the first four before we met, but when we got together, we read through them together again, and then with each new book we embarked on the journey together. He took a class in college called Imagined Worlds, where, for his final project, he wrote a scholarly essay on the science of Magic.

Yeah, we’re fans.

As we queued up for the photo op at Platform 9 3/4, I was still shocked by how giddy and smiley my normally stoic husband became. He watched with great interest as people posed, getting annoyed with everyone else in line when they tried to be cool and not jump for the shot. And when we reached the trolley, he got his Hufflepuff scarf and joined in the journey to Hogwarts with me.

We wandered through the shop alongside the platform, buying up gifts for fellow wizards in our family and finally getting my husband some Hufflepuff gear. We listened to the cashiers— a Slytherin, a Gryffindor, and a Hufflepuff— banter in true House rivalry form, making obscure references and slaying with their English wit. Overall, this was one of my favorite moments so far simply because I got to see such joy on my husband’s face.

Then it was back to the Tube and hotel for a quick change because we had booked a fancy afternoon tea and couldn’t show up disheveled and shabby. Again, my husband fell right into the moment. We giggled and bantered, took pictures and ate too much despite our assertion that we weren’t even that hungry. We’ve been married over ten year and we still find each other quite amusing.

About twenty minutes into our tea, a dapper dressed dad and his little girl arrived for theirs. She didn’t want any of it except the scone, and she was fairly adamant about sitting on her daddy’s lap and snuggling. Her little voice in her very grown up dress, curious blue eyes, and typical childlike disgust melted my heart.

To top off our day, we’d booked theater tickets to see Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart in the play No Man’s Land. It hit us, as we sat in our seats, drinking champagne and just a few feet away from the stage, that this kind of magic doesn’t happen often and should never be taken for granted. With wonder, we watched film and stage legends, best friends and longtime colleagues, give emotionally charged and wonderfully funny performances live. We turned off our phones. We ignored the world and took in the moment and it was perfect.

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Then we wandered back through London, via Tube and our feet, to a little French Restaurant just off High Street Kensington. Where I was mistaken for Taylor Swift, and my husband was sure that this day would be hard to top.

Lets see how we do tomorrow?

London: Day Two

This morning, the sky over London is pale blue streaked with shades of gray. I’m still here and it is still like being in a dream.

Yesterday’s journey from my hotel began with a ride on the Tube, my first. Having lived in NYC, I was inclined to think the Tube would be like the Subway. It wasn’t and I like it better. I found the lines quite a bit easier to decipher, and the whole process a lot more intuitive. But then, also, I am now older and less easily plussed, and so maybe it isn’t the Tube that runs better, maybe it is me.

I met up with a group of writers who are all going to be published in 2017 at a restaurant called Dishoom. We tucked into a booth downstairs and dug deep into conversation. It was lively and lovely, and I was in awe of each of them.

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Photo cred: Katherine Webber’s phone and my husband.

London is an incredible city to experience on foot, and that’s exactly what we did.

We trailed down Charring Cross road and broke out at Trafalgar Square, a bustling, vibrant spot with famous landmarks and a smattering of talented street performers. Crawling along one edge is the National Gallery.

We walked through a portion of the Gallery, taking in works by Cezanne, Monet, Van Gough and lesser known pieces (or at least, to me) but no less breathtaking.

There was one, a self portrait by the female artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, that I found particularly arresting. She was the only female artist in a room full of men, and even now she demanded respect.

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I stopped on the far side of the Square to get a shot of the Gallery, and when I turned around I was met, to my complete surprise, by a view down Whitehall Street of the top of Big Ben. I don’t know if it was just that I’d not expected it, but tears welled in my eyes. I stood there for a moment stunned, arrested.

Walking toward Parliament feels like the building of a climactic moment in a movie. With each step you get closer to the thing you are looking for, while also constantly walking into  moments that surprise you. We saw the House of Guards, 10 Downing Street, the side of Westminster Abbey, the London Eye. My eyes kept trailing back to Big Ben, and once we were upon it, I couldn’t seem to move. I didn’t try.

I stood. I stared. I embraced the utter disbelief that it was right in front of me and was easily one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I’d seen up close.

As we walk across the Westminster Bridge toward the London Eye, it began to rain. That didn’t stop me from stopping repeatedly to take more pictures. It didn’t dampen my fervor for the walk. It meant pulling my hood up and baring into the splatter.

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Somehow, London in the rain is even more charming.

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We finished our night at a Kensington restaurant called Ffiona’s. With walls papered in sheet music and a country scene, flickering candlelight on the shabby chic tables all tucked into an intimate space. The patron is a woman, unsurprisingly, named Fiona, who not only owns but runs the floor. We ordered the night’s specials, roast beef and half a chicken, potatoes, gravy, some kind of ribboned greens that I devoured. It was an experience for my mouth and my mind. When my husband ordered a whisky, she plopped the bottle down on the table and let him serve himself.

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Later I asked for a cup, and we sat there talking and dreaming, laughing and thinking, and when it was sadly time to go — because as much as we might want to, we couldn’t sleep there —Fiona sat at our table to work out the bill and have a chat. We walked out smiling, and my husband said quietly, “That was perfect.”

 

The whole day was perfect.

 

London: Day One

I woke up in London, today.

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While I drank coffee from a china cup (because tea is wonderful, but jet lag is a real thing), I watched out my window at the rooftop of Kensington Palace and attempted to let it all just sink in.

There is a great danger in having dreams come true. They can let you down. They can be not what you thought. They can take from you a reason to get up everyday. Some of us need the longing to keep going.

I think I do.

Coming to the UK, for some reason, always felt impossible to me because it just mattered so much. It was this sharp and persistent desire and therefore I began to believe it would never be mine, as so many things that you long for don’t come to you— or, at least, don’t come in the way that you thought. I had almost resigned myself to forever talking about my daydream of London.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I had to keep reminding myself that this was happening. I had to make a decision to believe that the dream come true would be better than the dreaming.

Yesterday, as our plane broke through the dense cloud cover over London, I began to cry. It’s a moment that I will never forget: seeing the land and feeling a promise answered.

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As I walked through Hyde Park to Kensington Palace, observing dogs frolicking leash free and children kicking a ball with their dads, hearing the chatter of locals and watching other bewildered tourists try to absorb the majesty of Queen Victoria’s childhood home, I felt at once an outsider looking in on a world I wasn’t really a part of, and completely, perfectly at home.

I took pictures of streets and wondered at the people who got to live in them.

I wished I was brave enough to climb into the private garden for residents only. Like I was Julia Roberts and Nathan a longer haired Hugh Grant.

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I saw a Pub I’d seen on Pinterest and wandered in for a pint and some Fish ‘n Chips.

I walked through the store that Paddington Bear visited. (They prefer you not take photos from inside.)

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I took a picture of the Travel Book Shop from Notting Hill.

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I was stopped for directions and ruined the facade that I was a local with my very obvious American accent. (Don’t have a picture of this, you’ll just have to take my American word for it.)

I was home and also away, the same and also aware of my differentness, touristing and living in the city, in the land, I’d loved since I was a little girl.

And in the midst, there was now room for new dreams to begin to take hold. I had jumped the hurdle, or the pond, and now found myself on the other side of an impossible thing. What more can I do now that this has been done? What else can I let myself long for and go for?

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Dreaming Of

Everyone has dreams. Be they secret and hidden away where no one can see, or exposed and constantly on display for anyone willing to look, one thing is certain, we all have them. Regardless of the dreamer’s style, it can be very hard to believe that the big dreams buried or screaming inside will ever really come true.

It’s been my experience that two things happen as we get older. We let go of certain dreams and cling to other, more reasonable ones. And we decide that, rather than take the reigns of our life and follow the thing in our heart, we should be content to wait it out, hoping that we’ll be just happy enough— safe and fed and hopefully sane— to forget that dream ever existed at all.

Often the colossal dreams of our youth crumble because we realize that certain ambitions are outside our abilities or natural talents, skills, resources or control. Things like going to outer space. Or becoming a doctor when you loath science and math. Like achieving unmanageable fame, making the Olympic gymnastics team when you never really developed balance, inventing the device that will replace the iPhone. As we grow up, we hone our dreams based on who we see ourselves becoming. It is our mind and will looking to protect our ego and heart so we don’t set ourselves up for a meandering existence wrought with sadness. Or so we avoid a stunning collapse from failure.

This kind of dream modification is healthy. A good honing is valuable as you mature. It allows the true dreams, the ones polite enough to wait until the Jedi-Princess-Snake-Charmer-Married-to-Young Harrison Ford has run it’s course, and you’ve developed the ability to reason. It allows the dreamer to live on.

The other scenario, that one is much trickier. In my experience, dreams don’t ever really die. At least, not the ones that truly matter. Because once you’ve honed your dreams — and this, too, is a continual process — if you don’t follow the path you will someday look back and wonder what if, but you will never truly forget. Dreams left to fester and rot become the ugly wrinkles in your forehead and the sour expression on your face. They make you sloppy and boring at parties. They lead to lethargy and the eventual demise of whatever made you unique and vibrant.

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Since I was a child, I’d been infatuated with London. I’d read Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden and EVERY Jane Austen novel. I loved Princess Diana, and had been obsessed with Lady Jane Gray, Anne Boleyn, Victoria and Albert, Queen Elizabeth (1 and 2)…

And this didn’t fall away as I grew up. I’m so much like Bridget Jones it’s frightening. I do tea in china and watch The Great British Bake Off. Downton Abby was my everything. If a book is set or a movie takes place there, I love it by default. I read all picture books in a bad British accent and follow Very British Problems on Twitter. I’ve researched it. I’ve romanced it. I’ve promised to have it’s babies. I even found myself a literary agent in London and somehow managed not to ask her to marry me based solely on her accent.

Yet somehow, even more than all the ways I loved it, it felt like it was already a part of me, tucked in my spirit, hidden among the thorns and briars of my personality. Like it existed in me from the beginning. From before the beginning.

But I have never been.

A couple months ago, while ensconced in the ever so glamorous task of folding laundry with my seven year old, we put on Paddington (a delightful British movie about a marmalade-loving bear’s adventures in London) to pass the time.

In the movie, the Bears meet and befriend an Explorer in their native land. He’s traveled there from London to study them, and I assume, bring back a specimen. Eep. But he doesn’t. These bears are highly intelligent, and so he leaves behind tapes and books about London, and he encourages them to come, to look him up if they do. And for years, they plan and dream of someday visiting London. They memorize the tapes. They know all the right words to say and proper way to act. But someday never seems to come. And finally, one day, Uncle Bear’s time runs out. He never got to go.

That moment hit me hard. Suddenly, I saw how fast time runs away from us. How little we are guaranteed. I turned to my husband and said, “I will not be like those bears. I am going.”

Someday resides in the future until one day it becomes the present. Until one day you look at the dream and you say: I will wait no more. It’s been long enough.

And it takes an act, or more often, many acts stacked all on top of each other until finally you reach your dream. It takes admitting that you want it and acknowledging the batter ram from fear that it will never be. It takes pushing your dream from the safe, silent cocoon of your imagination out into the dangerous, blinding light of reality. It takes guts and faith to take anything and give it life.

Dreams live.

Dreams tingle with nerves and the electricity of promise. They can hurt you. They can disappoint and underwhelm. They can end up falling apart. They are not unalterable and never quite finished. But if you have one, you are not powerless to wake it up.

Don’t be like those bears. Don’t miss your chance to go to London. Be like Paddington, who took the long boat ride necessary and found a new dream once he arrived.

Three Ways Critique Partners Are Unicorns

There are so many articles and blog posts out there detailing the publishing road, it’s various ups and downs, twists and turns, plummets into deep holes of revision malaise and rejection induced cookie-binges. But tucked into those stories of woe and perseverance, are characters many of you will recognize.

Critique Partner(s): an enchanted creature one meets on their journey to publication endowed with the magical power to inspire, encourage and enrich the writers quest.

But in order to gain the magical being Critique Partner on your journey, you must first be able to recognize the value of honest, thoughtful, layered critique— both how to give it and how to receive it.

My first experience with critique was actually a literary agent that I met at my local city park in Brooklyn, NY. Looking back, I recognize the disaster that could have transpired. She was a pro, I very much was not. But this agent — who quickly became one of my close friends in the City— offered to read my manuscript and give me feedback. It helped that she didn’t represent my genre, and that we had met wearing our mom and people hats, not writer and agent name badges. It helped that she was gentle. With her feedback and encouragement, I revised, I revised, I got very close to getting agented with that manuscript. Without her feedback, I would have hit send too soon. I would have done all the wrong things.

Unlike Unicorn Critique Partners, my agent friend felt more like a fairy godmother. She taught me industry protocol. She taught me about critique. She sent me into the world to find my own heard of magical beasts.

Critique Partners believe when you can’t.

Last year I hit a rough patch in my writing journey. I wrote about it extensively on my blog, which is the equivalent of screaming into a pillow at the top of your lungs. Cathartic, but ultimately useless. I had experienced the ugliness of the query trenches. I’d been rejected, I’d been hopeful, I’d been the recipient of the form letter and the thoughtful rejection. It had taken it’s toll on my creative well. I desperately wanted to give up. I couldn’t face my manuscript, let alone stomach doing another revision or sending another query letter.

In swooped critique partners, rainbow tails swinging, hooves of faith clomping.

I am part of a big tribe of young adult writers, so I want to stress that this sense of community and magic is not limited to the writers I count as critique partners. But when doubt creeps in, the best defense is a person that has read your book and believes in it. My critique partners were unrelenting in their support that someday, somehow, this thing would find an agent, a home.

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Countless emails. Countless texts and Facebook chats. Many days of me veering off course, detouring and wandering and spazzing. They still encouraged me to go back to the story. To give it another chance.

When I was finally ready to revise again, they were there to encourage and advise. They cheered for the story. They told me they never doubted me.

But I did doubt. I wasn’t as certain as I needed to be. Anyone that has endured rejection will understand my behavior. I was inclined to believe the many no’s. I actually think, maybe, I had to believe it for a while to find my way back to my story. But without the faith and insistence of my Unicorns, this little writer would have never found her path because she would have given up.

Critique Partners don’t belittle the struggle. 

Something that becomes increasingly clear the longer I pursue publication is this: the loneliness is real.

The journey to a book in hand, while something many writers will one day likely take with varying results, is ultimately still not a well understood process to those not in the midst of it. For the first few years of mine, I knew a grand total of two people that understood the arduous task of trying to get published.

I count two separate but equally significant plot points in my own writing saga as the game changers for me.

  1. Befriending a local author— Over three years ago Lindsay Cummings followed me on Twitter. At the time, I was still living in Brooklyn. When we decided to move back to Texas, I direct messaged Lindsay and asked to meet up for coffee. This was a gamble for both of us, and after Lindsay researched me online to make sure I was a legitimate  human writer, we met up for dinner. Not only did she become one of my best friends in real life, but she became my ally in the book world. She read, critiqued and loved my writing. She helped me meet other writers in our area. She helped me not feel so alone.
  2. Taking a writing workshop online — I signed up for an online class taught by Nova Ren Suma. Not only did I gain an incredible advocate and teacher (and now, friend) in Nova, but through her class I connected with five of my critique partners. After class, we embarked on the organic process of emailing each other pages and tentatively giving feedback, then more boldly responding, asking for help and thoughts on more than just pages, but idea seeds and life twists, until we found a rhythm unique to our tribe and needs. These writers have become some of my favorite humans.

On the writing journey, critique is the key to support.

Through critique, I found people capable of walking through this with me. We’ve lived in the trenches together. We understand the sting of rejection and the swell of pride that comes with a request, a yes, that phone call that leads to an agent…or doesn’t. That moment when you have to start over, go back in, move on. And we know that the pain from the publishing journey hurts just as real as other pain, can cause just as many problems as marital issues or job hell, and is not for the faint of heart.

Critique Partners make you better.

Words are hard. Writing is bad, and then it’s a little less bad, and then a little less, and every time you chip away a layer of bad the promise of beautiful begins to emerge. There is only so far you can take your own words. No matter how skilled, critique is often the key to making a decent story great, finding plotholes, worldbuilding issues, character development flaws, and so on. Without clever eyes on your work, you must rely of your own mind. The closer you get to a particular story, the harder it gets to see the issues as they arise.

Getting a good group of readers that you can turn to at different stages in revision to help you clarify, hone, polish and shine, is an important step in preparing your manuscript for query, and later, publication. I am a firm believer that reader feedback should be taken seriously. Yes, this is your story, but at some point it needs to make sense to the rest of the world.

Critique partners can come in and unicorn-horn slice through the crappy words in your manuscript better than you. Then, they come back to you with ways to improve, with glowing praise and passion, and it’s often the push back into the story that you need.

Every time I’ve felt lost in a work in progress, I’ve emailed one of my critique partners with pages or plans or scene ideas, and they’ve helped me find my way.

Find your unicorns and hold them tight. Stroke their mane and give them sugar. They are invaluable to the quest!

If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, some of my critique partners and I have decided to pay back the writing community that helped us find each other. We’ll be hosting a live critique workshop called Manuscript Crit-Chat, scheduled to take off this fall. Whether you’ve been critiqued before and want a new set of eyes on your pages, or you’ve never been critiqued, but want to get your feet wet, we want to give a taste of the magic. Over the next month we’ll be revealing more info, so stay informed by following us on social media. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our tribe!

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To engage with the Manuscript Crit-Chat gals:

Facebook :: Instagram :: Twitter

To Tweet at the individual masterminds behind all the fun:

Susan Bishop Crispell :: Courtney Leigh :: Jessica Fonseca :: Rebekah Faubion 

And do check out Courtney and Jessica’s posts on their personal blogs!

4 Reasons Why Critique Partners Saved My Writing Life

Five Reasons Every Writer NEEDS a Critique Group

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Girl in Pieces

If you follow my blog, you will know I do not regularly do book reviews. For that, I use Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes and Noble because leaving a review on one of those sites for a book you love helps the author of that book immensely.

When I do talk about a book on my blog, it means that book has hooked me in the heart. It will not be reviewed so much as emoted about.

First, the description:

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you. 
 

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. 
 

A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

Kathleen Glasgow, the author of Girl in Pieces, and I are friends on Facebook. We have never met in real life, but after reading this book I feel like a tiny piece of her soul now resides in me. This book is deeply personal, for the writer to share with the world, for the reader to experience through the text. This is a book you will likely not find easy to get through, and when you finish you will not quickly forget or move on from.

Kathleen sent me the ARC (which stands for Advanced Reader Copy) because we’re both authors in the YA community, and because I stalked her Facebook when she was giving them out for review.

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I started it immediately, wanting to read and get my thoughts out on the internet to best help promote the book. About sixty pages in, I abandoned my plan. There were times when I could only read three or four pages in a sitting because it was making me feel feel feel. It became clear that this book was not junk food. This was not a speed read. This was a book you experienced, sometimes in public— while waiting for a movie, while ignoring family members at meals, while sitting by a pool — and sometimes only in the dim quiet of your bedroom, surrounded by blankets to ease the pain.

Not everyone will feel what I felt for Charlie. To some, her journey will be compelling, but completely other from their own experience. But anyone that has ever experienced deep, confusing self-harm —for whatever reason, in whatever walk of life — will be able to see a little of themselves in Charlie.

By nature I like to maintain control. By hard work, years of discipline, lots of good loving and growing up, I have learned how to let go. As a teenager I was still learning how to exist in the world at all. As a teenager, I was overtaken daily by fear. It became unmanageable and impossible to maintain, so I restricted. I built walls around myself. I ate only candy some days. Tuna others. Often, pickles and sugar-free jello were my only reward for a day in the world. I shrank down, and eventually, I became a whiff of my former self. This action was accompanied by all manner of obsessive compulsive behavior, and followed by many years of retraining my mind and body to live in the stupid, big, uncontrolled world I had been born into.

Charlie cuts. She cuts away the pain. She cuts away the lack of power she has over her life. Reading about her journey as an adult I felt so thankful to Kathleen for writing this book for young women, boys…grown-girls still lost in this. When you are trapped in this kind of pattern, sometimes it feels like you aren’t seen. That people are looking away from your pain, unable to deal, too busy, too something. I know that because I felt it at times, even though everyone saw, everyone knew, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to help dig me out.

Girl in Pieces sees all the crooked edges and works to make them safe. It is a voice to this silent scream. It is a conversation starter.

There is no glory or beauty in Charlie’s scars, and the author does not make light of the very dark and dangerous path self-harm can lead to. But this is Charlie’s journey to learning to love herself regardless of the ugly she has taken into, and cut onto, her body. It is a journey worth taking with her.

The writing is stunning. It moves along the page like notes of music from an instrument. There is color and life swirled in with the pain. Funny, honest, thoughtful moments that make the story feel like looking in on a real life. There’s rough romance, and some language even a sailor might blush at, and somewhere in there I went from being certain this was a story about every other kind of pain than my own, to knowing this was a story about all pain and how there is always a way through it without hurting yourself or someone else.

I cried. I finished the book on the couch while my son watched Teen Titans. I had to get up from my spot and walk away, close the bathroom door, sob on the edge of the tub. I hugged the book to my body. I consider it one of the best I’ve read this year, and an important book, one that should be read, and praised, and shared.

Here is a link to pre-order Girl in Pieces, so that you might experience something truly fucking angelic.*

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*You’ll understand once you’ve read. And you’ll love it.

 

 

When I learned the meaning of “mass shooting”

 

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My son: Why are you crying, Mommy?

Me: Because of all the shootings. There was another one last night.

My son looks at me with confusion.

My husband: Do you know what a shooting is?

My son: No.

My son is growing up in a world where this is normal, but until today the word “shooting” remained undefined for him.

I remember when I learned what a “mass shooting” was. I was fourteen-years-old and I lived in Monument, Colorado. I had gone to algebra class like I was supposed to, but my teacher, a frizzy redhead with no love for me, hadn’t showed. The class was getting restless, and no one knew if we were supposed to sit around waiting for her or call the office, mutiny or follow orders. There was a window in the classroom that lead out onto a courtyard. From there, I could look into the teacher’s lounge. They all wanted me to climb out and go see if she was still in there, just sitting around, getting drunk on her break. We wondered if this was some experiment the faculty was conducting, seeing how long we would take to react, would be behave. These were the expectations we had, a bunch of kids with no real experience in the world.

I unlatched the window to climb out, and just as the crook of my knee curled around the edge of the windowsill, a voice came on the intercom calling me down to the office and ordering me to bring my backpack.

I was certain they’d seen me on some camera they had in the classroom and I was done for.

When I arrived at the office, instead of my teacher or the assistant principal, I found my Dad standing in front of the window, running his hands through his silver hair.

“I was just messing ar—” I started.

My dad turned, his face red, his icy blue eyes shiny. “There’s been a mass shooting.”

Mass shooting.

“What do you mean?”

“There is a school up the road, not far, in Columbine. Someone opened fire in the classroom.” My dad swallowed hard. “I’m taking you home.”

At that time, no one knew if the shooter was on a rampage, if there were other shooters in the area making teenagers with backpacks their targets. But my father knew one thing: this is too close, I’m taking you to safety.

I learned something else that day, besides the meaning of “mass shooting”. I learned that even if my father took me away from the violence, he couldn’t prevent me from experiencing the terror of it. There was, never again, a day that I woke without the knowledge that if someone is hurt, angry, hate filled and they have access to a gun, they can kill without mercy.

I was a reader. I understood societal violence from books. At fourteen, I was obsessed with the Holocaust, consumed by the reality that one man filled with prejudice could rally an army to brutally murder the people group he despised. I was even more obsessed with the thought that he was defeated, in the end, by his own hatred of himself, because he was a coward, and hatred will only lead to death.

At fourteen, I watched as hate and sadness consumed two teenagers and others were the victims. Now, murderous hate was no longer an abstract concept. It was right down the street from me. Not multiple generations in the past. Not a world away in Europe.

My son watched me cry this morning. My son got an explanation for why. My son will be raised in a world where shootings have become almost commonplace, but my son has so far been sheltered from the violence of it.

My son: Mommy, is Dallas far away or close?

Me: Dallas is thirty minutes from us.

And I cried again. I cried as I had to explain why the cops in Dallas were killed. I cried as I told him about the events in Louisiana, in Minnesota. I spared him details, a gift I can still give him as his mother. A gift like my father gave me.

My father couldn’t prevent the violence from happening, but when he picked me up from school the day of the Columbine shooting he shielded me from that unknown danger, the fear of hate. He told me, later, when the details came out about the shooters, that I wasn’t ever in danger, not really. He wanted me to feel safe again.

But the thing was, and I knew it then, in my own school there were kids living at the edge, hurting and hating and angry. I knew that I was always in danger, every time I walked out the door to go to school because now none of us were safe. Now, my world had been changed. We had seen something we’d never seen before, and we knew it was real.

Hate is like a flame. It burns through everything else until all that remains is a pit that cannot be filled with anything but violence. Hate is an idea that turns into a movement. Hate is words spoken that cannot be taken back. Hate is blame. Hate is assumed superiority. Hate is the little thought in the back of your mind that designates what is other.

Hate is what happened in Dallas. In Louisiana. In Minnesota. At Sandy Hook. At Columbine. On September 11th. In Orlando. In South Carolina. In San Bernadino. In Paris. In Istanbul. In Israel for generations. All over the world for as long as humans have walked it.

It is not enough to talk about Love, the abstract concept. I sit here crying, and it isn’t because I personally knew the people killed by this violence. It is because my heart swells with love for my son, my state, my country, my world. It is me feeling the pain all at once, all through my body, and not shutting it down. It is longing to hold those hurting close just like I held my son close as I cried.

It is NOT longing for a better world. I have lived in this world, this version, most of my life. This is the world I have been given. This is the world I must love. This is the world I must try to be a voice in, a light in, a willing heart in. This is my son’s world. And wishing it was different will not make it so.

BEING different in it is my only defense. Teaching my son to be different is my only safeguard. Writing my passion onto the page in the hope it will touch someone’s heart, make them soften, give them hope, is my action for change.

No one wins if we will not allow our own hearts to be changed first. If we cannot see every single human— even the ones voting for a candidate you hate, or living a lifestyle you disapprove of, or not doing whatever you think they should and therefor not doing enough– as equal and valuable and worthy of love. Right now, we are not winning. Not one side or the other. There may never be a point in our lifetime that we do win.

The best we can hope for is this: a willing heart hearing a cry for understanding. Someone else, and ourselves, our children and their friends reaching out to say I don’t know the answer, but let me hold your hand, let me cry with you, let me be with you, let me fight with you.

 Let me really, actively, without condemnation or hate, without condition, LOVE you.

Game of Thrones: The Door and Thoughts

Warning! Warning! This post is full of spoilers and thoughts and conjecture.

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There I have warned you.

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I have a complicated relationship with Game of Thrones. It has been this way since I first binge watched it years ago. I love Jon Snow with the fire of a thousand suns. Daenerys is my home girl. I have been on Sansa’s side for longer than most because I’m a girl often underestimated, too. Arya is a badass I could totally hang with. Tyrion is my drinking buddy. I get irritated when the showrunners resort to sensationalism. That whole “Jon Snow is dead” thing, yeah, I was not okay and it is still not okay even though he’s back.

My trust is broken. My devotion still very real.

I came to GRRM’s world through the show, and even once I read the books the show was my first affection. I never transferred my affections to the books in the same way those who started with the books first like to lord that over our heads.

There is more than one way to be a fan.

The cannon of the show and the cannon of the books are two different beasts. For many seasons the show has diverged and meandered and omitted vast plot elements from the book series. They are not separate beings, but we need to stop making allowances for the show based on what has happened in the books. We have left book territory.

So for the purposes of this blog post, I am not taking into account the cannon as established by GRRM. I speak of show cannon and worldbuilding, and what framework has been created by the showrunners for the finale of this series.

Warg Magic: a study in sloppy world building

Y’all, don’t get grumpy because I sound critical. See above swoonage.

In A Song of Fire and Ice warg magic is explored not only through Bran’s storyline, but through Arya and Jon. In Game of Thrones, we are mostly limited to exploring the warg magic, and it’s boundaries and limitations, through Bran, with the help of Jojen and the Three Eyed Raven. Because of the commercial pacing of the franchise, the length of episodes, and cost of production, trying to fit complicated worldbuilding into fragmented segments of TV can often result in gaps.

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Add in the fact that Bran was missing for the entirety of season 5, and we have a recipe for worldbuilding tomfoolery. This season of Game of Thrones has moved at breakneck speed — a fact I am not actually against. However, even with that pacing, for much of the season so far I have felt like the storylines were a bit limp. We have received a lot of information in a very short amount of time, and I think maybe they need to make sure someone is fact checking for them.

In the episode The Door, we are force fed two pieces of warg magic law that the TV viewer had no previous knowledge of.

Bran is touched by the White Walker dude and then apparently that means he has permission to pass through the wards in place around him.

(I don’t think they call the magical barriers wards in GoT, that is just me showing you guys how super cool I am) Is the White Walker now a vampire and this forced touch is his way of gaining permission to enter? For starters, this brings up some consent issues that Game of Thrones already gets wrong. But it is awfully convenient to the plot that this information is revealed too late, thus making the climax possible.

When worldbuilding, do not throw pertinent, potentially perspective altering information in a line of dialog right before it happens on screen/the page. It is actually possible to skillfully feather in a magical principle and still maintain dramatic tension. Throwing it at your audience (and the character), right before it is necessary is just lazy. Coming up with an active way for Bran to be touched by the White Walker even though he knows the risk would have also given him an active role in the horrific events of the climax.

Bran can warg into a body in the past. 

Bran affects the timeline through his power. Beyond that one brief second at the Tower of Joy, we had no previous clue that Bran was actually even in the literal past. To me, the visions felt very much like Harry’s trips into the pensive, which he could not alter in any way.

The revelation that he can kind of be heard is the first clue that he might actually be going into the past, though raises the question of if he is in the past what physical plane is Bran on when he is warging? It’s not the same plane as the others because they can’t see him. Is he like an apparition? Apparitions historically struggle with interacting with the physical plan. (re: All the Ghost Movies)

There is either a plothole here or they need to establish the law he uses to make this magic possible. Since it wasn’t established fully, and now the Three Eyed Raven is smokey feathers, how will they answer this question?

Though, one thing that I appreciate about this revelation is the immediate consequence to this complicated magic, which I will discuss below in more detail.

The loss of Hodor and Osha, Shaggydog and Summer

Thus far the show has done little with any of the direwolves besides Ghost. Nymeria is off gods knows where, maybe gathering an army of woodland creatures to her side, maybe dead. Summer was with Bran, but after his badass role in season one, he has largely remained in the background if he is featured at all. This feels like a missed opportunity or a budget issue. Either way, it kind of blows.

Shaggydog: They gave us his bloody head.

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Summer: I don’t care for symbolism, first of all. Secondly, no. Third, Summer is a hero and a saint and though he died a heroes death it felt like little more than a budget cut. I am not pleased. Do better.

Osha: After everything she has done for the Stark family, the showrunners just decided to give her to Ramsey Bolton. To call this a waste of a good character is an understatement. Osha could have easily had a life beyond that moment, and played all kinds of games to continue to help the Stark children. But they let Ramsey kill her. RAMSEY.

Hodor: About sixty seconds before he switched from “Hold the door” to “Hodor” I threw the pillow across the room and yelled profanity because I realized what was happening.  Yet, to me, this moment was well earned. Hodor, a hero in the quietest and most valiant ways, was given the honor of a heroes death. But unlike Summer’s death, I believe Hodor came to the natural end of his character’s journey.

Worldbuilding issues aside, anger and sadness not withstanding, this was the way for him to go. It taught us something (or at the very least raised an interesting question), and though he has always been brave and well-liked, gave us one of the least senseless deaths of this series thus far.

It is painful to think about the reality they are trying to prove here: that Willis lost his mind as a child because of a battle in the future. That Bran was the cause.

Though I do wonder about the consequence of Bran having been in the mind of someone that died — since the consequence for young Willis was the loss of his mind — I can set that aside and appreciate the fact that Hodor died well — just as he lived, in the service of House Stark.

RIP Hodor. May the Lord of Light shine upon you.

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Sansa giving it to Littlefinger

“I can still feel it in my body standing here right now.”

She spoke the words of a woman who had been traumatized, but never turned victim. This moment was beautiful and powerful and marred only by her later lie to Jon because it proves she still kind of trusts Littlfinger, and come on Sansa you are better than that. I cannot decide if this is a failing on the writers part, or a character weakness, and it is like.

Still, allowing her a moment to vocalize her disgust and give it a name was a stellar moment for this series. So often, they do not take the time to give enough emotional weight to the characters traumas. Yes, this is a fantasy, but one of the brilliant things fantasy can do is speak to complicated world and human issues with honesty.

I do not want to see a penis shot ever

Dear Showrunners that are Male,

Flaccid penises are not photogenic. Accept it. Move on. Please do not show them to us as an alternate to female nudity and pretend to understand feminism. We don’t want it. You do not get it. Lets agree to disagree and cut our losses.

Sincerely, Females with Eyes

Jon Snow’s Journey

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I am grateful to have him back. But…

Magic always has a price. There must be a consequence that reflects the degree this magic influences the natural world. That the price is not being examined (yet) for Jon’s resurrection is a little bothersome. What was the exchange for his life? Is there no consequence because supposedly the Lord of Light brought him back? Does that mean the Lord of Light is real? Are they taking a religious stance?

This season has dealt in heavy doses of magic. Yes, Game of Thrones in a fantasy and magic has always had it’s place in the world, but less so in the TV series than in the books. If we are going by what we see on screen, then there is a lot left to be explained. Worldbuilding is tricky. And walking the line between allowing magic to turn into a plot device, a way out of sticky situations, a way to reveal information, and integrating into the plot so that it works for you and not against you is hard.

For Jon, we have seen an undercurrent of rage growing throughout this season. What that will lead to, we can only hope is his own chain breaking, heroism and the discovery of his true identity.

Final Thoughts

Euron is an idiot. Notable quotes that prove this:

Whatever he said about marrying Danaerys

That bit about his cock

When he wanted 1000 ships from like ten guys

That he will give them the world. 


Game of Thrones continues to break my heart and enrage my mind. I don’t enjoy it, but I look forward to it every week. I don’t trust the showrunners, but I continue to invest in their product.

Great storytelling is accomplished when your reader or viewer walks away from your story thinking. Game of Thrones makes me think, and dissect, and for that (and for Jon Snow) I am thankful.

 

Momness

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An Open letter to those looking for their Momness:

There is nothing safe about motherhood. If you choose it, you will never feel peaceful again.

You may not enjoy pregnancy. You will probably have back pain and knee pain and boob pain, and at some point you will stop being able to hold it to the end of the movie. You will not like the weight you gain regardless of how good it is for the baby. You will hate your face in pictures and your pregnancy glow will actually be a sheen of sweat. Take this opportunity to eat dessert everyday. Peruse the candy aisle. Have a plate of french fries. Kale is important, but enjoy the abandon of finishing the whole milkshake. Pregnancy is about you stretching out, giving up some control on your body, and learning to tell people to back off.

You will feel pain. There is pain in labor no matter how you go about it. There is no way, actually, to give birth to a baby without it. Embrace the pain. Then defy it. Whatever you do, be you in that hospital room. You is who the baby will need. If you lose your way in there, but sure to have someone that can help you back to it.

You will feel everything. When the baby is here you will be exposed. Your body, your soul, the shortcomings you were worried about, they will be on full display. If you let that train wreck happen, you also might just win the whole world. Your baby’s whole world anyway. It is terrifying to be everything to another human being. No matter how in love you are with your significant other, you have never actually been the sun he revolves around. For this brief interlude you are the entire world for your baby. You are perfection. Accept that. Let it give you strength.

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Later, when you are home, you will feel alone. It will not matter how much support is in place there will be these silent, still, shaking moments of aloneness. Of baby and only you-ness. When the sun starts to set and you realize you are going to have to face the nighttime again you will maybe freak the hell out. Do that for a few minutes because it is always better to acknowledge the fear than to ignore it. Then pull it together and go to bed as soon as you can for the night is long and full of feedings.

DSC_3813Reach out. You do not have to know what you are doing. Mom’s are not superheroes. If you find yourself in the dark, tell the truth. There might be people that judge you. Learn to tell those people where to stick their judgement.

Find a time to feel like yourself. Drink wine after a feeding while the baby sleeps. Watch trashy TV. Read read read. Nap like a cat. Take a walk. Listen to birds. Listen to yourself.

Write down how you feel. Write it out because later you will wish you had. You will think all kinds of crazy, hair-brained, brilliant and borderline insane things and the fog of two am feedings and diaper changes and trying to get the breast pump to work and I need a break and will my body ever stop looking like silly putty, is going to make you forget that you are powerful and cool and you have an idea. You will forget the love you feel later when you are fighting with them about what they’ll wear to school or eating broccoli at dinner. You will forget the bravery you showed by getting up again to swaddle and soothe when you just want to sleeeeeeep.

Write it down. All of it.

Yes, take pictures, but more importantly feel the moment with your body. Make memories and then make a photo. Be there first.DSC_4445

Hold on. Tight. Long. Forever.

Listen to your own instinct. You reserve the right to tell everyone to piss off. You get to scowl and scramble. You get to ignore every guidebook and piece of advice. This baby is yours. For a few lightning fast years, you are the moon and stars and ultimate authority. You are the chosen one. You are the beginning, the end. No single human being alive on this planet is better equipped than you to make your child’s life magical. You decide what that fairy tale looks like. It might not include Pinterest crafts or breastmilk, staying home with him, going back to work ever. You might not be the same kind of mom as yours, and that is okay.

You might try for years to have a baby, and it might never happen. It will tear you up inside. The grief will be unmatched. Your desire will feel unfulfilled. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to mute your friends with children. It is okay to let it go someday. To put that dream behind you and move on. To find peace in your journey.

You may get to an age where you know the chance to be a mom has passed you by. You may be too afraid to try. You may think you will fowl it up. You may look at the world around you and wonder why bother bringing a baby into something so completely messed up. You may feel the loss of miscarrying and everyone around you might not understand why, for you, Mother’s Day makes you want to hide.

Momness is a battle. It is waging war against the world for your child, but it also waging war against the fear inside you. Momness can mean loving a baby, but it can also mean advocating for a child that has no mom. It can mean stepping in when you see a need. It can mean listening and paying attention when you realize no one else is.

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You will find your momness in moments of extraordinary bravery. Because momness isn’t just in the having and raising of your own baby, it is in the daily battle for the future. The willingness to look at this frantic world and try to create moments of peace. To fight for someone smaller, less capable than you. To be around when you need to be. To prove that though they be small they can still be fierce.

With love,

A girl still finding her Momness

The Modern Author Life

Things Writers like JK Rowling and Anne Rice and Stephen King didn’t have to worry about when launching their careers:

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Facebook

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Immediate Human Contact

Things authors need to worry about when launching their careers now:

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Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

And, oh, GIVEAWAYS.

After the giveaway drama of yesterday I wrote my friend and told her I would never do it again. I didn’t like the pressure. I felt powerless and unsafe and nauseous and my fingernail polish was all chipped off from panic. And if it’s like that on a small scale, how will it be when people actually care later on?

She suggested that giveaway’s were essential to our chosen career path. That they are expected of authors, especially Young Adult authors, and never say never. She encouraged me not to worry.

And there’s the rub: I worry a lot.

Writers as a species are over-thinkers. We humans created to write stories tend to have over-active, vivid, and often, dark imaginations. We are good at thinking up elaborate scenarios for failure and malady. We are designed to do this so we can get our characters into circumstances that require heroism. You need us to be this way so you get stories that make you feel things.

Take a person like that and throw them into any situation where the outcome is unknown and they will start to devise schemes for failure or triumph. We’re not always dark, sometimes those imaginations that create detailed worlds and intricate plots also dream up wild success stories. We can sort of be like the mirror of Erised. Like, look at me with the House Cup and being a glorious Head Girl and my mom is crying tears of joy…

I’m veering off topic.

The changing landscape of the publishing world means we as authors have to become more comfortable with a whole heap of things outside our control. We have to roll with punches and we have to guard our words and we may need to drink at night or take up a spin class to deal with that anxiety of ALL THE UNKNOWN and HOW WE CAN FAIL and IT’S ALL SO PUBLIC NOW.

We also need to be honest. We need to let people in on our not okay all the time-ness. We need to be allowed to say we don’t know what we’re doing and we are making it up as we go along and we do yes please need a well-timed gif of a kitten in a coffee cup tweeted at us.

As difficult as

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Actual human contact

Can be

It can be so very wonderful,too. Super rewarding. But not if it feels unsafe. Not if we think we HAVE to. Not if we aren’t authentic.

Giveaways will happen. But not because I think it’s my responsibility as an author. I can be an author without that. I am very clever. I could find my way around it.

But my responsibility to future fans (Hey, you guys are so fancy and bad ass and I love you.❤ Future Me) is to make the internet as it relates to my books and my chosen path of Young Adult Book Pusher accessible and fun and shiny. That is something of value, and I like adding value to lives.

I agree with my friend: Giveaways are useful. Readers and writers alike enjoy them, but they are scary and stressful for me.

So is publishing my stories. It’s scares me, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me to do the things JK and Anne and Stephen didn’t have to if it means I’m doing the best for my fans and my book.

I will always worry. I will never be cool. My brain will inevitably veer into dangerous territory any time I face a situation outside my control. I think it’s better to deal with all that, and also do something I love, than to be sitting alone in my office writing into a vacuum and never trying anything that scares me.

Fear means you’re alive. Fear means you’re doing something right.