Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In Which I Rid the World of Willie Wonka

Thanks, Mark King, for my nomination for the Liebster Award! I thought this looked like fun, and I was right.

What the Liebster Award is about: a blog introduction, and a way to get to know each other better.

It consists of 11 Random Facts about Yours Truly,

And 11 Answers to (Crazy Hard) Questions from the Nominator (in this case, Mark King),

And 11 New Questions posed to Three New Individuals (watch out, you're next).

11 Random Facts:

1.) I met royalty once. He looked like Pop-Eye the Sailor Man. I didn't find out that he was the king until I had already shaken his hand and moved on. Somehow, I've always regretted not doing something different, dropping a curtsey or something, even though I was wearing jeans. I mean, he was the king!

2.) I have a burning, intense dislike for licorice. It is a vile, foul invention that deserves incinerating in the blackest of kiln-fires.

3.)The only sport I'm remotely interested in is Quidditch. Though I have been known to watch the Super Bowl because the commercials are hilarious, the Stanley Cup finals because I want my husband to think I rock, and the World Cup, because soccer. Obvs. ;)

4.) I would rather endure the pain of labor and delivery than have a sore throat. Honestly. Yes, I did just type that.

5.) I cannot listen to a Jack-In-The-Box musical toy without jumping when I hear the "POP goes the weasel" even though I KNOW it's coming.

6.) I love to crochet and I love to play the piano, but I find it hard to do both because of stupid arthritis. Let it be known that 35 is too young for arthritis. I'm signing a petition to protest.

7.) I have a permanent indentation on my left wrist because I wore a watch there day and night from the time I was 7 until I was 34.

8.) I wrote my first book on a dare from my husband.

9.) Secretly, on the days when I need to pull out my mommy-as-ninja skills, I pretend I'm Katniss Everdeen. 'Cause she pretty much rocks.

10.) The only "pets" I own are two goldfish named Bubble and Toasty, and with whom I find it hard to emotionally connect in any way. So that, when they die, there will be no tears and a very short funeral that will consist of one flush and a trip to the Great Septic Tank Up Yonder.

11.) My favorite timeless classic song: "Great is Thy Faithfulness." Makes me cry like a baby every single time.

11 Answers to Questions from Mark A. King (aka Valentino): 

1.) You are allowed to invite ten people to dinner. You can choose anyone from any point in time. Who do you choose and why?

Rather than choose all ten from one point in time, I'd love to see the centuries and ideas come together over fried chicken and mashed 'taters. Jane Austen would keep up a running commentary on the social ambivalence of breadcrumbs combined with meat (the two would NEVER mesh). Dickens would go on and on and ON about the morality of the butcher and the chicken both (it was the best of times, it was the worst of times). Rowling would try to turn her fork into the core of Phoenix feather, hair of unicorn and Avada Kedavra the chicken, because she thinks it needs a bit more cooking. Lincoln would look morosely over the meal and stroke his beard, because he looks SO distinguished when he does that. I would try to keep Bronte away from the butcher knife; she keeps sneaking over to the cabinet to grab it. Suzanne Collins shows up late at the door with a bow and a quiver full of arrows, and she keeps eyeing my kids suspiciously. I send them to their rooms. Richard Armitage broods in the corner, but I let him, because he's SUCH an enhancement to my dreary dining room. Emma Thompson engages Austen in conversation, and I am thoroughly impressed with their repartee. C.S. Lewis keeps scribbling about wardrobes on the napkins I've just freshly laundered, and Tolkein sits beside him, muttering some Elvish blessing over the mashed potatoes. Po-Tay-Toes.

I survey the table and the guests, and then remember that I forgot to add a vegetable.

2.) Who is your favorite villain from a fictional book? Explain why.


I'm going to twist the term “villain” just a bit. One of my favorite books to read is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and the reason why is the character of Edward Fairfax Rochester. My husband hates the man, because he is SO horrible—keeping his (*spoiler*) INSANE WIFE in the attic for years while at the same time, romancing his governess. But I love the man, because on the other side of him is such a tortured human soul that only wants love in its truest form, and who of us cannot identify with that? Often, in stories, the villain will be an insidious, evil being with very little to redeem him or her, but in this book, the good, the bad, and the ugly are all rolled into one, and I love how true to life that is. Very few villains are ever born with a black heart. 

3.) Please pick a story from someone you know that you wish you had written. Provide a link (so we can enjoy it). Explain why you've chosen it.

Must it be someone I know? I have lots of author friends, and they've all written excellent stories, but the one story that keeps tugging on the edges of my jealousy, that I WISH I had thought of first is by someone I have never met. How to Train Your Dragon. (http://www.amazon.com/How-Train-Your-Dragon-Baruchel/dp/B002ZG97YM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421762971&sr=8-1&keywords=how+to+train+your+dragon+dvd)

Not only is it an entertaining movie for kids and adults both, but there is such an arc of character development/action and plot/imagination in it. A father-son conflict resolves, a young romance blossoms, an unusual best friend relationship rocks the story, the musical score is phenomenal, and the action at the end is so intense and well-planned. It took a master story-teller to come up with it.

Dagnabbit.

4.) Please pick a character from any story you have written and think about the actor/actress you'd like to play them. Explain your choice.

In the first Young Adult fantasy trilogy I wrote, one of my favorite characters is Professor Manderly Manders. He serves as a humble, somewhat dusty teacher of Elementals (people that can wield the four elements), but he's also a kick-booty hero behind the scenes. When I first started writing the trilogy, I went to www.imdb.com for inspiration for the characters. The only person I could see filling the role to perfection was Robert Downey, Jr.

I think Mr. Downey is booked for the present, though. It's not likely he'd consider an offer from me. ;)

5.) Do you prefer print books or ebooks?

Print books. I have a very visceral memory of my mom reading books to my brother and me when we were kids, and the way the page crinkled when she turned it and the smell of the yellowed paper brings back a lot of nostalgia every time I open a book. Kindle will never replace it.

6.) Name a writer that you admire that lacks the recognition they deserve.

Mark A. King. ;) Although I think he's got a brilliant future.

7.) Please state your favorite first line, last line and mind-blowing line from a book.

All in one book? Or from three different books? I have many favorite books and many favorite lines. These are just a sampling.

My favorite first line: (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Oh, the promise of that line. Exquisite.

My favorite last line: (Gone with the Wind) “I'll go home. And I'll think of some way to get him back. After all . . . tomorrow is another day.” What a succinct and complete wrap-up of an incredibly long book. :)

Favorite mind-blowing line: (Jane Eyre) “I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; - it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal, - as we are!” What a statement – equality (particularly in a society where wealth or lack of it dictated societal standing), and the absolute passion that pours from this line! Shivers!!!

8.) Please rewrite the ending to a film where the ending annoyed you.

One of my favorite escapist movies is an '80's flick called Girls Just Want To Have Fun. It's mindless, it's fun, it's a movie about dance, and there's so much big hair in it. But the ending is so annoying. Main girl, main guy win their dance contest against evil female and her stooge, main girl's best friend gets her dream job for absolutely no reason, main girl's dad overlooks everything and forgives his daughter for her blatant insubordination and gives her a thumbs up, etc. etc.

In reality, of course, the main characters should still win the contest, but a little depth of character from the surrounding cast would have been nice. A reason for the best friend's job besides being in the right place at the right time. A touching talk between father and daughter, maybe. Some lessons learned, perhaps a little less rebellion next time.

But I suppose the movie would be less mindless, and some thinking would be necessary if they changed it. So . . . oh well.

9.) Remove a character and make a film or book better (you're not allowed to pick Jar Jar Binks, far too obvious)

I would remove all the characters from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I would also remove the sets, the costumes, the actors, and the story. Then everything would be much better.

 
10.) How much time do you spend a week on writing, reading and tweeting?

My daily schedule is predictable. In the mornings, I get household tasks done, intermingled with making sure my kids are entertained. Lunch. Then bedtime/quiet time for the munchkins, while I write. That lasts about two hours, but I write fast, so I get a lot done during that time. Late nights also work for me – after the kids are in bed, and I've spent some time with my husband, I'll take my laptop off by myself and write some more. Facebook/Twitter, etc. are interspersed throughout the day in the odd seconds that I get a moment. And I always, without fail, read a chapter of a book before I go to sleep, usually around 12 or 1 in the morning.

11.) We catch up with you this time next year, this time in five years and ten years – tell us what you've been up to.

I'd like to say that the only difference will be a few more gray hairs, children and a husband who have aged the appropriate amount of time, and a few more books on my bookshelf. I've learned, though, that once you get a little comfortable, and you relax a little, life has a way of throwing you a curveball. Or ten.

But whatever curveballs come my way, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do what I do, to be who I am, and to know who I know. I know the time will be richer the longer I carry on. And that makes me happy.


11 New Questions for my Three Nominations:


  1. What would you say that other people say is your best talent?

  2. What is your favorite genre to read and why?

  3. If you could take the place of any hero/heroine in any book/movie, what would it be, and why?

  4. Who's your favorite? Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Gerard Butler? Why? And if you hate all of them, explain yourself (because there is no excuse). ;)

  5. Who's your favorite? Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emma Thompson? Why? And same as above, if you hate all of them, explain yourself. :)

  6. Pretend you're making up a new language. What would be the phrase for: “You steal my heart.” Tell me your process.

  7. Explain why The Princess Bride is one of the greatest movies of all time.

  8. What is your go-to activity when you're bored/unhappy/sad? Why?

  9. Tolkein or Lewis? Why?

  10. Favorite mythical creature? Why?

  11. What was your favorite childhood story? What was so fascinating about it?


    3 New Nominations:
    Margaret Locke
    Rebekah Postupak
    Deb Foy

Friday, December 12, 2014

Distortion


Something about a single glass of wine. A hundred stories played in my mind. I chose two:

Distortion
It is the distortion that I do not see.

It wavers, offset, unbalanced, against a backdrop of perfection,
Deep hues blending one into another like the shift of twilight into dusk into night.


Beauty spills from the scene, and peace, the scent of
Warmth,
And tranquility.
Fingers lacing my hand,
A casual brush of my hair behind my ear.


So that when you smile, I don’t even notice the cracks in the smooth granite,
The weeds in the white lilies,
The scorpion that hides in the sand.


When you look at me with the familiar smile-creases,
When you lean in for our mutual touch,
When you raise your glass in toast to me,


I never notice the poison that swills the wine.
It sinks deep, unnoticed, into the purple liquid.


And on top, on the shimmering surface,
The picture tilts.


*****
And try number two:

Solitary
One glass of wine is a lonely thing.

If you bring another, place it next to mine, we can gaze outward, toward the sunset, a steady nearness warming our skins. Laughter might fill the air, the occasional witticism. 

Perhaps you enjoy golf.
Perhaps I adore opera.
Perhaps a can of Campbell’s tomato soup is next door to heaven, in your opinion.
Perhaps I inform you that it most certainly is not.


Perhaps we sit in our chairs and chart a course through the stars that is woven of dreams and memories and wishes that never came to pass, yet. We plan the future and take it by storm. We are powerful, we are masters, we are kings and queens in our own right.

And then the darkness seeps in and the clouds cover the stars.
I return my gaze to the glass on the railing.


One glass of wine is a lonely thing.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Coming of Age With a Red Umbrella

This week's Flash Fiction prompt was stunningly beautiful, and that red umbrella held so many possibilities. The most difficult part of the assignment was picking which direction I wanted to take the prompt. Below is the pic, and my task was to include something about coming of age. Scroll down to see my measly attempts:


Beautiful, isn't it?

Here's attempt number one:

Shaded

They are coming, they are coming,
The things that pass us by.
The choices and decisions
That made my parents cry.


Now the cards are mine to deal,
Mine to shape and mold,
And nothing in this great wide sea,
Can cause me now to fold.


I cowered ‘neath the umbrella
Of my parents careful shade,
Terrified lest I should feel
The rain on my parade.


How many times they told me,
“Girl, it’s not a simple task.
Life’s not a platter with a cake,
And all you do is ask.


“It’s working hard and dancing well,
And living day to day,
And when the sun sets at the end,
You must be on your way.


“Be honest, humble, kind and sweet,
Let all your heart shine through.
And when we’re gone, you just may find
You’ll shade others, too.”


 *****
It's one of my rare, rhyming, rhythmic attempts at poetry, but I liked how the message played out in it.
Take number two is a bit darker, in which I feature a victim of abuse, and her escape to freedom:

 
Goodbyes

You grasp his hand, turning it palm-up, tracing your fingers over the lines that map the last eighteen years. It hurts, you know?

The bruises those hands have caused, blue fingerprints against soft flesh.
The pain those hands have inflicted, hard yanks behind drawn shades.
The screams those hands have smothered, molded iron against terrified lips.


You don’t say anything; you don’t have to. He would know, in the silence, what you would have said yesterday. 

Yesterday, when you packed your bags.
Yesterday, when you still feared death.
Yesterday, when the state viewed you as a child.


Today, you grasp his hand, the final goodbye, close his staring eyes, and march your way out of his room to the open door. The rain spatters across the steps, a thousand fountains of silver.

You square your shoulders, open your umbrella, and face the ocean of possibilities.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

You Say Can't, I Say Can.

I'm feeling particularly special today.

Part of it has to do with the fact that it's my 35th birthday, and seventy-nine people just wished me happy birthday on Facebook alone, not to mention the people I saw when I went to church for the evening activities.

I could feel a cheesy grin cross my face at every single wish, so now, by the end of the day, my mouth feels like I wedged a banana in it, sideways.

It's nice to have encouragement, even from people I haven't seen in years and/or have lost contact with nearly altogether.

I was thinking about that today--how far encouragement can go.

A long time ago, about seventeen years now, someone I liked and respected very much, who I felt should know quality writing when they saw it, told me that they didn't think I could write very well. I doubt this person would know how much that one comment stuck in my brain, how it has festered there for years and years.

With every rejection letter I've ever received from any agent or publisher, that comment echoes across the years, the barb still fresh, the point still sharp. He/she's right, you know. You can't write. Everything you turn out is dull, pointless, cliched, too full of adverbs, boring, stale, overly dramatic, underly dramatic . . . and the list goes on (yes, I know "underly" is not a word).

As many of you know, I've taken to writing flash fiction to try to hone my skills and perhaps widen my fanbase a little. At one site in particular, I've written consistently, week after week, slowly making a name for myself, inconsequential though it may be.

This past week, I won third place in the contest. It was exciting to go read the leaderboard to see all the other stories that had placed. The overall winner of the contest gets the dubious privilege of being interviewed during the following week, and their interview is posted on the same site.

The writer who was interviewed was asked what writers she would recommend others should follow, and why. Her answer?:

"Flash! Friday writers, especially Karl Russell and Tamara Shoemakertheir stories makes you want to up your game every week."

Talk about encouragement! That echo from years ago, the one that whispered: You can't write. Why do you even bother? lost a lot of its oomph compared to this line that jumped off my page. And now it's been treading through my mind ever since.

For years, I've believed I was a pretender. I was a girl who wanted to write, and I tried without ever really believing that I could. Today, I finally realized that I'm a writer who may sometimes turn out something not so great, and other times, things that may have a sheen of brilliance.

The important thing is that I'm a writer. I. am. a. writer.

And today, a complete stranger who does not know me and is not influenced at all by her relationship with me, just announced that she likes what I write.

So that voice that echoed in my ears all these years, that didn't believe in who I was inside?

It can take a hike.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In Which I Play Hopscotch With Harry Potter


Last night, I had a conversation with some friends about Harry Potter. Because what else would I talk about anyway? As my friends can attest, Harry is a particular favorite of mine. A new member of the group did not share my love of the dear bespectacled wizard. She asked me, with true curiosity, how I could read and enjoy a story that so clearly deifies sorcery and witchcraft.

My first thought was admittedly defensive. Ah, here once again is the age-old argument that goes back long before Harry Potter even slipped into existence from Rowling's pen. How dark is too dark? How fictional is too fictional? How real is too real?

I've heard this argument a lot, mostly from people who have not read the books, and I'll say here and now that I don't believe there's any basis for the argument. But I'm not writing this post to debate the light and dark of Harry Potter.

When this dear woman, who comes from a completely different background than I do, and who sees many things in a very different light than I do, asked me this question, suddenly, the proverbial lightbulb popped on over my head.

God is big, guys.

That sounds cliché, but just think about it. God is so big, that He can take this one flawed story (did I just admit that the Potter books might have a flaw or two?) written by a flawed human being who does not have a relationship with the Creator God, and He can use the story to touch a whole lot of people who would never even consider picking up a Bible or going to a church service, or even reading Christian fiction for that matter.

The themes of redemption, of self-sacrifice, of good overwhelming and eventually obliterating evil that ring true through the book, have reached out to people the world over, have sparked discussions that has led many a person to examine or reexamine their own relationship with God. And Rowling never even intended it.

Huh. Wow.

And you know what else? God is big enough that He took the potentially divisive question in the discussion last night and turned it into a rock-solid dialogue about our faith walks. This woman and I came away from that conversation not only excited about what God is doing in both of our lives, but with a deep respect for the path each of us has journeyed with Him.

I wish . . .

I wish . . .

I wish it could always be like that.

I wish I could write what God gives me to write without feeling the pricking barbs of other Christians who read my work and wonder how I could possibly include such material in my books. That I could know that I'm pouring my soul into the characters that live and breathe on my pages without feeling the disapproval that trickles, however unintentionally, from well-meaning friends and family.

I know that I write in a world of billions of opinions, and that there will always be a refracted view of anything I write, a fly's vision with a hundred different perspectives of the same thing. I know that I will always have disapproval in some form, keeping company with the shining light of support for my work as well.

I wish it could be like the woman last night, though, who overcame her disapproval of my choices as I overcame my defensive attitude, and we discovered that God had a use for each of us, His vessels used to pour His Spirit in two very different manners.

So . . . my characters use foul language now and then? They slide down the slippery slope of sexual depravity? They live a life of manipulation and greed and back-biting and . . . and sin?

So . . . they're sinners in need of grace?

Yes.

Guys, listen. I've enjoyed my share of Janette Oke, and Lori Wick, and whoever the next-new-author is on the Christian market. They have an audience who enjoys the lighter side of life, and I can't fault them for it. They have a ministry, and they're faithful in it. I admire them for that.

But God doesn't call us all to the same ministry. Sometimes, we have to carve out our own niche in the rock, and it's uncomfortable, because it's a new space, unused by anyone else, and perhaps that new space is a little scary and dark, because it hasn't been tried yet.

Perhaps, instead of fearing the unknown territory, we can instead focus on how God leads his followers to new places, to introduce them to new ministries, to reach new people who haven't been touched by His word yet.

Perhaps new wine needs to be poured into new wineskins after all.

Who said that?

Oh yeah, some guy who just wouldn't go with the flow, who wouldn't allow himself to be pushed into some used niche carved by the expectations of everyone around Him.

In my writing career, I've had a lot of lines drawn in the sand before me. Write this, don't even touch that subject. That's too graphic, tone it back, would you? For the love of Pete, he said WHAT?

All those lines create a web in front of me, each strand restraining me from what I feel called to write. I could play hopscotch in them all.

Look, I'm not saying let's do away with accountability. Woo-hoo, free-for-all! I'm just saying that . . .

God is bigger than my mistakes, than any story that will ever pound its way out on the keys of my laptop. So these characters who peer out from the white pages and move around in their flawed, human condition, who demonstrate by their fictional existence that light can still pierce the darkness and find them . . .

I think I'm going to let God use them.
Even when they sin.

Because God still uses me. Even when I sin.

That's so freeing, you know?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Masquerade


Here it is, another Friday, another rambling 150ish word shot at the winner badge (or at least a special mention).

I don't carry around a case of clown phobia, so this prompt wasn't as terrifying for me as it may have been for others (if there had been four hairy-legged giant spiders eyeing the boy from the side of the bed, that would have been a different story. Shudder).

I've seen a lot of things floating around on internet and Facebook recently about death. Cancer. Diseases. A "poison pill." 

The thing is, when that time-stamp inks your life, your perspective changes. This little merry-go-round on which we revolve, the social mannerisms, the political correctness, the words we should say, the ones we shouldn't, the cues and mores and ins and outs of culture--that all gets swept aside when the shade of Reckoning slips across our daily agenda.

Deep thoughts early on a Friday. Here's my attempt to put some of these thoughts into words.
********************************
Perspective
Somewhere in this multi-ring circus of drawn-out death–
life with a closing sign, my doctor says–
the actors file into my arena.
They line up before me, balancing on their tightropes,
laughing and jesting for the audience of one,
clowns in full costume,
red grins pasted on hidden faces,
masquerading behind their smiles to tame the pain.


It’s a dance, a perfect symmetry,
where the ringmaster directs,
and the elephants trumpet on cue,
the aerialist releases the bar in sizzling tempo,
the lions wave their harmless claws at the tamer.


Funny how I get to sit in the waiting room,
counting the hours until clock-out time,
my part in the circus terminated with no severance pay.
Now I sit the sidelines, spectating.


Funny how they must toe the tightrope
with surgical precision
until someone falls off,
and they turn on him like birds of prey.


I never noticed it before.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Today's Offering: The Lady's Maid


The Lady's Maid by Susan Page Davis took me back my teenager-hood when I devoured every historical Christian romance novel I could find on the shelves of my dad's book van (he was a Christian book salesman).

Counting the Stars: I gave this one 3. I liked it. I didn't love it, I could easily put it down after a chapter or so, but I did enjoy the story.

Who doesn't love a good Oregon Trail story? I've had a love affair with the Trail since sixth grade when each person in our class spent several weeks writing our own Oregon Trail stories and illustrating them. Mine is still buried in my closet. I take it out now and then and blush over my early attempts at story creation (I think I even stuck a little romance in there. Of course. I can't write a story without it). ;)

This Oregon Trail story seems well-researched and confident in that fact. Lots of little details stand out that authenticate it for the reader, and I enjoyed that.

Enjoyed the love story, the mystery that weaves through the story's theme, and the happy ending with just enough of a loose thread to leave room for the sequel.

It's what I've come to expect from the Christian market with few exceptions. Clean, perhaps a teensy bit shallow and fluffy, good for a brainless escape if you need one. And who doesn't need one of those now and then?

I probably will not read the sequels, though that doesn't mean you shouldn't. ;)