Monthly Archives: June 2018

Camping in New England

Big Agnes Big House 6 Tent

The last few days, I’ve been away. I’ve been camping of all things. There’s a lot I want to unpack about that. Camping is not something I actively enjoy but it is something I will do if it means I get to see the ocean or go places that I love. It is one of the things my husband likes to do on purpose, just for camping. This year it was a bit different than it’s been in the past as there were more things to take into consideration, mostly my rheumatoid arthritis.

I struggle to get up off the floor so sleeping on the ground wasn’t really going to work for me which meant we had to get a cot. Getting a cot meant we needed a bigger tent. Thank goodness for REI’s garage sale! We got a great deal on the Big Agnes Big House 6 which fit the four of us with two cots (and two people over 6 foot tall) very comfortably. I slept in a sleeping bag, on a yoga mat, on a cot and when I had the right temperature bag, it wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t sleeping in my bed but it was definitely workable for a few nights.

The American side of Niagara Falls was interesting and beautiful and crowded. Our first campground was in New York. Mostly an RV park where people must come pretty regularly for the season. One RV was even getting a newspaper delivered if the post outside was any indication. It was really cute and well maintained though. After that, we headed off to Winter Island Park in Salem, Ma. If you’re reading this, I really need you to buy my books and have your friends do the same. I want to retire in Salem. Maybe open a bookstore or just write more books. I love it there. It feels like I could belong there. It’s marvelous up there. And I’ve never seen a more dog-friendly city in my life! There were bowls of water out on the sidewalks, every fourth person had a dog with them (and my oldest took pictures of ALL OF THEM).

Moray Eel at Boston Aquarium

We hopped down to Boston and did part of the Freedom Trail. I could not manage to do the whole thing. If you have mobility issues – do yourself a favor and get the trolley tour. Walking it is very hard and those cobbles are beautiful but hard on the feet and joints. We did the Aquarium first and then Faneuil Hall (both the market and the museum portion) before heading to the Old North Church. We finished off at the USS Constitution which was super neat. We had some great food – bacon wrapped scallops, fried calamari, crab cake BLTs (seriously!). We had some terrible coffee – instant Starbucks isn’t any better than regular Starbucks, somehow they make everything taste burnt to me! but the Alpine instant stuff from REI really wasn’t bad.

I bought less than I expected and certainly less of the sorts of things I expected. I did find a Funko Ludo and I love him so the marvelous husband bought him for me. And a silver raven skull necklace. I’m having a thing for corvids right now – especially ravens and crows. Perhaps I’m in transition, perhaps they’re being my muse. Whatever, it’s a thing in my life right now so it made it all the more special.

Winter island lighthouse

We also went through the House of Seven Gables. Let me tell you, there has never been a face so full of joy and wonder as my oldest son’s when they opened up that particular staircase. I live for moments like that. Oldest child had some preconceived notions of some things and was mostly using Fallout for his touchstone but it’s pretty interesting watching the kids learn stuff. The youngest child wasn’t really interested in that part but maybe someday he’ll figure it out. It’s not like he’s going to forget any time soon.

We drove through our old stomping grounds in part so the oldest boy could take a look at Wesleyan in Connecticut and in part because it’s quite the walk down memory lane for us. We even made it to our first apartment building. I definitely wouldn’t mind if the boy ended up in New England. It’d be a great excuse to visit.

 

 

 

Young Komodo Dragon at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland

Coming home, we stopped at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland. It’s a really cute but very small zoo devoted to reptiles. They have two – TWO – young Komodo dragons which just so happen to be my husband’s favorite things ever. Pretty sure he feels about them the way I do about octopus and ravens. We had a good time until the birds (where my husband and oldest son proved that they might just be Disney Princesses). My youngest son is autistic and tends to be quite literal. People kept trying to hand him seed sticks to feed the birds and he’d get mad because he thought they were trying to feed him and he’s not a bird (he also doesn’t really like to touch animals that aren’t his critters so much). I’m used to explaining to him when he misunderstands. I’m used to explaining to other people when he misunderstands. I am not used to strange women grabbing me by the shoulders and explaining, very forcefully, that they understand. My brain completely blanked and all I could say was thank you. I appreciate the sentiment greatly (especially the day after) but really, I’m not a fan of people in my space bubble and I’m especially not happy when people are touching me. I don’t know how she wanted me to respond but I don’t think I did it right, I sort of fled. Ok, not sort of, I did flee. Youngest kid and I went out to the gift shop while the other two were playing with parakeets.

Winter Island Park

The most annoying part of the trip though is the fact that we did ALL that walking, none of the snacking, and I managed somehow to stay the exact same weight. That’s some real BS right there. Sure some of what we ate, especially on the way home, wasn’t maybe the best for weight loss but still, I really thought there’d be some drop. And I still have to do all the laundry.

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Filed under Anxiety, Autism, Fun, Interesting, kids, Life, marriage, Memories, Parenting, photography, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Writer Wednesday – Yog’s Law, Scammers, and Tricksy Hobbitses

Simply put, Yog’s Law states that money should always flow to the writer. When you’re first starting out and don’t know the ins and outs, this is an important lesson to learn. Over the last decade, scammers have gotten a bit more clever I think but if you follow the law, you’re not going to find yourself a victim of them.

This post started in my head after seeing yet another commercial for what can only be the world’s next Publish America (beware: if you start reading the threads and blogs, you could lose days.) I get that everyone wants the validation that publication offers and it’s an amazingly heady thing to receive an acceptance letter and it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that maybe that letter isn’t entirely on the up-and-up. It’s hard to get rejected and so easy to get sucked into the idea that everyone is out to keep new ideas and new writers from succeeding but, I promise you, they’re not. New and good writers are still and always sought after, even by those companies with stables full of superstars.

If a publisher offers you a contract and then asks for upfront fees, don’t sign. Agents and publishers and all the other people involved, they want you to succeed as they make more money when you make more money. Author mills make their money from their authors who are encouraged to buy so many books to peddle at wherever they choose (usually to family and friends).

Self-publishing doesn’t change the law, but it is a bit tricky because one person is both author and publisher. As a publisher, they do have to lay out funds for editors, covers, and various expenses. As an author, they should be banking their 15% (or whatever).

A few easy marks of a less than legit publisher or agent: 1. They email you entirely unsolicited, talking about the next big thing in publishing and how they’re just waiting for your book or whatever language they’re using now. 2. If you visit the website, it’s less about attracting readers to new books and more about attracting new writers. 3. Any mention of any big movie star just waiting to play the lead in your story. There are a lot of steps between submitting a book and landing any sort of movie deal, let alone with anyone like Julia Roberts.

There are a lot of good places to get information to avoid the scammers and less than upfront or ideal practices. My first Go-To to check on publications, publishers, and agents is the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Checks portion of their forum. My second check is over at Writer Beware. Preditors and Editors is a good one but it seems to be restructuring.

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Robocallers, Spam, and other useless things

I have been getting a LOT of spam in my email, on my blog, and on my phone lately. I know some of the uptick in it is because I’m doing some survey type stuff that gets you on those lists and some of the medical stuff I’ve signed up for and that’s fine, whatever, but I don’t understand the point of the spam I get on this blog. None of it makes any sense. It’s not like they’re trying to sell something or whatever but their “comments” make zero sense. Something about a guy named Larry usually. Every now and again, I think I should copy paste this but really, it’s just ridiculous. I just can’t figure out what the reward is for it. How does one make money spamming blogs? Obviously, they are because otherwise they wouldn’t continue to do it, but I don’t get it.

I don’t answer my phone anymore because I’m so sick of Rachel at card services I could scream. Of course, before there was Rachel, there was the guy that tried to get my a “free” cruise thanks to my card. At the time I didn’t have a credit card and he yelled at me that no one in this day and age doesn’t have a credit card. Dude, that’s not how you make your scammer’s commission.

I know sometimes the illegal is also easy but no, I don’t get it. I’m pretty sure some of those scammers would do just as well in a regular, above board gig. And honestly, it’s super freaking annoying.

 

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The Most Beautiful Words

Some of the most beautiful words in the world are “The End.”

I’ve written them for a number of books now, some that will never see the light of day, and others that I can’t wait to show you all. I love writing and sometimes, even with those words, a story doesn’t feel done. And that’s how series happen. I do have a few books that are stand alone one off type books but, now that Christmas in Bear Ridge is done (well, until first readers get back to me and I read through it 8 more times before sending it in before deadline), I’m also looking forward to getting back to Hunter’s Hell and writing those two beautiful words on that story. I have a lot of books in progress but, with the memory issues I’ve been having, I’m learning that it’s probably better to stick to one project at a time right now.

I have more stories than I think I’ll ever have time to tell. I’m going to say that’s a good thing though and run with it.

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Writer Wednesday – Mary Sue Characters

I mentioned last week the worst rejection I’ve ever received where a certain editor completely slammed me personally and not just my story because said editor decided it was a Mary Sue. A Mary Sue character is generally a wish-fulfillment character, doing things the author wishes they could do or being something the author wishes they could be. I don’t see anything wrong with that, personally. I certainly don’t see three paragraphs worth of lambasting me for it. I’m going to say though that that particular editor was having a really terrible day and give him the benefit of the doubt a little.

Two things are true, in my opinion. 1. There absolutely was a wish-fulfillment portion to writing that story as the character built her own wings that actually worked and tried to change the way her own people viewed those they saw as “lesser”. 2. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

This particular story I might want to fix a little now, being a full decade later and I know more now than I did then but I still love it. It belongs to the history of the planets involved in Guardian of the Gods and every now and again I think about pulling together all those stories into a sort of History of the Acknivarian Cycle volume and maybe I will one day.

I have never met a writer who didn’t put something of themselves in their characters or a character that didn’t reflect something of the writer. Even the villains reveal a great deal about a writer, their fears, how they see the world. It’s more fun to write about people we aspire to be doing amazing things. It’s also more fun to read about people we aspire to be as they do amazing things. I know a lot of people consider it a bad thing, a trope, and something to be avoided but really, what they want to avoid is the flawless character. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that real people are flawed, even, maybe especially, when we want to grow up to be just like them.

For me, the problem is not the Mary Sue or Larry Stu themselves – all main characters have a little bit of that wish-fulfillment desire in them. For me the problem is in the flaws, or lack thereof. If you see yourself a little too much in your characters, take a step back and look for the flaw. If there isn’t one, maybe find one. Flaws make even the greatest heroes relatable and memorable.

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Old Story, Old Thoughts

Grief has been on my mind a bit lately. I supposed that’s semi-normal for me, for the sorts of things I write, for the sort of life I’ve lived. You can’t avoid it when your grandfather is a funeral director – death is just a part of life. Sometimes, words get said and they aren’t exactly meant the way that they’re said. I think some people forget that words have power and sometimes the edges are sharper than they should be.

Instead of going on some little (or not so little) ramble about grief and the shape of it, the edges of it. I’m not going to go on at length about whether or not there is a wrong way to grieve (spoiler: there isn’t. Though I will say that avoidance is not dealing with it). Grief takes many shapes, many plateaus, and many forms. Grief isn’t always about death either. And I’ve already rambled more than I’d intended. No more rambling from me.

Instead, I’m going to put up an old story of mine that this train of thought always makes me think of. I was sitting waiting on an ultrasound for my youngest child and the story bloomed from there. It appeared in Flashquake in 2010 or 11, something like that. A long ass time ago but I still like it. Hopefully, you do too.

 

The Woman Next to Me is Dying

Sarah Wagner

Disinfectant does little to mask the scents of sickness and death, the inescapable odor that hovers beyond the reach of even the most thorough of cleanings. My nose rebels against the bleached vomit scent, threatening to make my stomach riot. I am at odds with these surroundings, carrying new life into this sick place.

The waiting room is bursting with people in line for their Rorschach images, their internal inkblots. Mine will show a beating heart, tiny fingers and toes, but the others in this room are not waiting for something so delicate or sweet. They’ve come to see the true breadth of what ails them, the lumps and bumps of scary things, lurking in the dark things.

The woman next to me is holding hands with her third round of chemo. As long as there is any offer of hope, she will be fighting. I admire her more than I have words for. What great strength must she possess in those frail, irradiated bones to face mortality with such hope.

She wears her baldness uncovered, a badge of honor, a crested buckler against death. She’s a fighter, deftly deflecting each coup de grace thrust in her direction. She won’t go quietly. Next to her, I’m a novice. I hope when the duel is mine, I am as strong as her, my will as sharp.

I am not here to parry, but to bring the next student into the world. I am waiting to hear that locomotive heart, to feel him moving beneath my skin, squirming against his prison. Anxious to begin his training.

He’s going to come out bald, like the woman next to me, and I hope he’s a fighter like her. I pray that my boy has the same strength to face life, the same steel will. I pray that the woman next to me finds her answer, finds remission in her IV bag, victory in hand.

*

I know it’s not exactly grief in the most obvious way, but for me, hope and grief spend a lot of time holding hands. The woman was more an amalgamation of people in that room and I knew none of them and I have no idea what happened to any of them. I prefer to think that each of them won the wars they were fighting.

 

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Writer Wednesday – Rejection

I have yet to meet a writer who is actively seeking publication who hasn’t had to deal with rejections. In the early years, rejections hurt me a lot worse than they do now. Nothing can prepare you for the deluge of no, for the occasional editor who, instead of just saying no, must berate you and say horrible things. (Granted, that only happened once and the editor is/was embroiled in some … issues that I don’t know enough about to speculate. Next week, perhaps I’ll write about that particular event and why it didn’t affect my writing in the slightest.) When I sit down to count all the rejections I’ve received since I started counting, it is daunting, maddening, and disheartening. But I still have a nearly decent acceptance rate and three novels and a short story collection out there.

In the beginning, rejections triggered instant rewrites. Now I understand a little bit better about how different editors like different sorts of things and even apart from that, you are actually in competition with other writers for limited space in publications. If you’re submitting to paying markets, they can only accept what their budget allows and your story or poem might be great but if it isn’t as great as some other stories they want to run, you’re going to get that big R in your inbox. Rejection does NOT mean that you’re writing is bad, your story is bad, or whatever. It’s really hard to remember that sometimes but “good” is completely and entirely subjective.

There are books out there touted as classics and masterpieces that I find to be nothing short of drudgery. And don’t get me started on some of the big money making series of late that I truly don’t understand how they ever got to be so popular. What one person likes and what the next person likes are not necessarily going to be the same. While an editor might occasionally pick up a story just because they like it, more often than not, what they’re really looking for is what the majority of their readership will like. It just emphasizes the need to research your prospective markets. You don’t send The King and I to SyFy, after all.

Rejection happens. It is inevitable. You just have to learn to dust yourself off and keep trying. Rejection isn’t the end, it’s just a sidestep.

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Bourdain

I was stunned by the news today of Bourdain’s passing. They’re saying it was suicide. If nothing else, we should note that money, fame, and success don’t automatically mean you’re ok. I’m sure one of those things makes life easier but the other two come with their own weights and costs.

I would like to note here that you are loved, even if you don’t know it, don’t see it, can’t believe it. You are loved. If you are feeling like you’re in a dark place, like ends feel easier, please contact someone. Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-talk please call them.

I’ve been in dark places before where my depression and my anxiety and whatever host of other voices join in there have tried to talk me out of my skin. Those illnesses have crafty voices but they are the worst kind of liars. It’s easy to feel alone, like everything would be easier, like no one would care. These are the lies your mind tells you, the lies that illness tells you.

My family and I watched Parts Unknown, No Reservations, and the Layover. He went to interesting places, met interesting people, and ate amazing and interesting food. And he got paid to do it. To me, that sounds like a dream. He brought interesting facts and introduced cultures to so many who would never have had anything like the opportunity. He helped make the world a little more connected, a little smaller. And he did everything with attitude and snark and a knack for language. It’s a very sad day today.

I reiterate: please, if you ever feel like death is the only way out or any way out, please call someone. Please get help. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend or your mother or your child or some stranger you just met this morning.

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Writer Wednesday: Talent or Skill

I vote both!

Writing is an art, a skill, a vocation, and, if you’re super lucky, a career. It helps to have some talent but you can get by without it. I can think of several big names that rely on their learned skills and their marketing far more than talent. You can get by with just talent or just skill but you must have one of those things (though I’ve seen some “best-sellers” that would completely refute that). Talent is a thing you either have or you don’t but it’s also very subjective. I might think an author has very little talent and that same writer could be your favorite. Skill is a little less subjective but, fortunately, skill can be learned. You will never please all the people, no writer is universally liked, but if you put the work in and hone your craft, nothing is impossible.

I am a huge proponent of the idea that a good writer is a voracious reader and I think you shouldn’t just read in your preferred genre. In fact, I think you can learn a little more about your own style and preferences if you read way outside your own box. Read all the things and don’t forget about poetry and essays. Even reading terrible books can teach you a lot about what you don’t want to do. I’m also a supporter of listening. Listening to people talk to each other, their rhythms and patterns, slang, dialects, it all can help with writing and not just dialogue.

There are a lot of helpful resources out there for honing that skill. I use Grammarly mostly to help me not murder commas. I do use the free version rather than the professional version mostly because I think between Grammarly and regular spellcheck in Word, I’ve got most of the bases covered but you might like to look into more than that. If you have specific grammar questions, the Purdue OWL may be just the thing for you and there is a lot more than grammar help there. If you’re writing historical, my favorite resource will probably seem a little strange but I personally think that checking to see if your language is accurate is important and for that there’s Etymonline.

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Mad Dash

Every year at the end of the year, I feel this crazy mad-dash urge to get stuff done before the kids are out of school. It’s a little less this year than it has been in the past because, honestly, my kids are a bigger help this year than they have been before. I would love summer if not for the constant bickering. Hopefully, oldest child will find a job and that’ll cut down on some of the bickering if only because they can’t bicker if they aren’t in the same room! There is zero chance of me getting the first draft done in three days (but it won’t be a whole lot longer as my zero was really fleshed out for me) so I’m not going to beat myself up over that. I am going to take a few hours and watch all the things I can’t watch when the kids are home. The oldest doesn’t like anything scary and the youngest is 11 so there are limits.

I don’t know that I have goals for the kids but I do want to take everything out of the little’s room and put it back together, weeding out the stuff that he has no use for and won’t do anything with. Some time this summer we’ll do a yard sale, whether it’s during the big one the neighborhood does or on our own, either way. We’ll spend some time in the woods a few times a week, get in the water as often as possible, and hopefully, enjoy the summer or at least not be miserable. It’d be hard to be worse than last summer so … yeah.

In not summer things: I’m struggling a little this weekend especially because my zero drafts always went direct to my dad for a plot check before I moved on to the next phase of my writing. Bear Ridge isn’t the first book without him as Demonborn was written when he was really too sick and I’d only given him a copy of it a few weeks before he died. So Bear Ridge is the second book I’ve written without him and I’m having a bit of a sulk about that. Honestly, he was really my only cheerleader and there’s just a big hole there now. I didn’t have anyone to celebrate over lunch or breakfast when I typed The End on the zero draft nor will I when I turn in the book. So I’m having a bit of a sulk about that too.

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