Welcome to July, friends around the world, and Happy 4th to my fellow Americans!
Yowza, July already! June whipped by thanks to summer school for the kiddos. Biff and Bash have been doing a class to help them get ready for 1st grade, which means time with the three R’s and some extra socialization. It also means me going through all their kindergarten work to pack up the most memorable bits, including their writing. After going through their pieces, I couldn’t help but ask Biff and Bash about their favorite work.
For a girl reticent about meeting new people and trying new things, it was a bit of a challenge getting Blondie to participate in summer school. With the bribe of a computer gaming class, I was able to sign her up for photography and geocaching. Lo and behold, she’s found those courses way cooler than playing ol’ computer games!
For some, summertime means going on adventures in far off places. But my experience with Blondie in the Horicon Marsh was a beautiful reminder that one doesn’t have to travel far to escape to other worlds.
So often we think we have to travel miles and miles to escape the humdrum.
We presume the truly fantastic is beyond the horizon, just out of reach.
But if we take a moment to step outside, we might just discover adventure awaits us in the here and now, be it in the nearby marshlands…
…or with the imaginations frolicking in our own backyard.
What are your imaginations up to this summer? Any recommendations of fun daytime-adventures with kids? Let’s chat!
Thank you all so very, very much for your encouragement and prayers. I know I left things on a bit of a cliffhanger yesterday, so I’ll just pick up from there.
We got the kids from school and fed them an early supper. I tried laying down to see if that helped, but it only made me so damn dizzy to go to the bathroom that I refused to lay down again. I tried eating a little in case I was just lightheaded from not eating–nope. My chest continued to hurt, and my limbs started to feel weird.
Now that, well, that freaked me out.
One look to Bo is all it takes. Short of shoveling food into the kids’ mouths, he gets their coats and says we’re all going NOW. I keep counting my breaths and holding Bo’s hand while we drive. The kids are quiet. Not scared, I don’t think. Probably a little disappointed, actually, considering when I had my first severe panic attack they got to meet firefighters and climb all over the firetruck while the ambulance took me to the hospital. They still recall that as being “a fun day,” the turds.
This time we’re at a clinic, and I’m going to see a doctor. My kids are in the waiting room with their little video games, and Bo has my hand. I’m going to be okay. I’m going to be okay.
And I think because I was there, and knowing I was there to get answers, the panic began to subside.
Figures I calm down just in time to see the doctor.
But it was still a good visit. A professional who knows how hearts and lungs should work is telling me everything’s working as it should. She recommends investing in a wrist FitBit (Pffft, like I have money for that) so I have a visual realization whenever it feels like my heart’s racing, it really isn’t. She does go through various medications, and that I could start taking antidepressants if I so chose.
I squirm a little. Why am I squirming? Didn’t I want an answer like this, a pill that will make everything better?
What IS wrong, Jean? Seriously, what’s wrong?
This month marks 5 years since Dad died, eight years since Bo’s dad died.
You’re in the running for a full-time faculty position at the university.
You got named keynote speaker, so the pressure’s on to stand out during the lit conference.
Your sons got suspended from school again, and now you need to work out their neuro-evals for the sensory integration disorder.
You’re wondering how the hell you’ll write if you do land that full-time gig.
You’re worried about your daughter. Are you pushing her too hard, or not enough? Are you spending enough time with her, or not enough?
Money. Always money issues.
Some other family issues I promised not to write about but have been weighing damn hard on me.
Bo’s finally caring about his health, but is it too late?
And the bloody cherry on top of aaaaaall of this is that my Aunt Flo came this morning. (sorry male readers)
With all that on you and then the monthly hormonal chaos, is it any wonder a panic attack slammed you in the chest again, Jean?
The doctor’s still talking. Not about meds any more, but sensory distractions: essential oils, for instance, working more with music. Drinking a calming tea. Taking a Vitamin D supplement to counter the severe D-deficiency we all experience in these dark winter months.
I take my notes, thank her for her time. The kids are starting to go nuts in the waiting room, but Bo is there. His hand finds mine.
It’s going to be okay.
Maybe I’ll still need those meds, but I’d like to try the tea and the D and the smelly stuff first. No matter what, I’m gonna keep fighting this. Anxiety doesn’t own me. It won’t break me from my family or what I want to do. If I need Zoloft or something to help me fight back, then that’s what I’ll take.
Yowza, I nearly forgot to write today! It’s been a mess of school work and Blondie. For the first time in ages, the majority of my students actually give a cheese wedge about their work. For a teacher, this is both awesome and awful all at once.
Awesome: Yay, look at all this in-depth idea-sharing and topic-exploring!
Awful: I gotta grade ALL this? Dammit.
So you know how on the 8th I wrote about the boys getting into a fight and pulling me away from Blondie’s parent visitation day? I made up for the time lost with Blondie by taking her to the local humane society this afternoon. We learned about being volunteers, and…yup, I signed up to volunteer with her.
I gripe so much here about stealing time from my kids, about trying to make time for them. It hit me watching her with the cats that I need to make time for her. If I don’t make it a thing, then months are going to pass before we have moments like this again.
Dammit, I will NOT let that happen. Come summer, we’re going to the humane society 1-2 times a week, and we’re going to work together to help these animals and clean up the place. She’s going to learn that caring for animals is more than playing with them, and I’m going to learn that my jobs do not have to dominate my life.
We also learned some hopeful news about the boys from their school’s social worker. Turns out the fight they got into last week could have been prevented: last-minute scrambling for a substitute resulted in all sixty kindergarteners sharing a classroom at one point, where both Biff and Bash usually use the same seat, just one different days. Well both went to “his seat” and no teacher thought beforehand to get a second seat. Fists ensued.
The social worker apologized about that, and also informed me that after talking with some other peers in behavioral studies, she thinks Biff and Bash have what’s known as sensory integration disorder.Basically, it means that new stimuli in their regular environment or a new environment with lots of stimuli can basically overload them and they cannot process it decently. They don’t know how to function, sooooo they get out of control, or they break down, etc. It would take an official diagnosis to find out, but if this is the case, a diagnosis would help the boys get some extra help at school and protections from teachers eager to write up the “naughty” kids and send them home.
For the first time in years, it sounds like we might actually have an answer to what the heck is going on with these guys.
Okay, back to grading for me. Thank you all for your continued support through this month of blogging, teaching, writing, mothering…and now the kids get to eat cheesy pizza and I can’t touch the crusts and I hate all food and why, WHYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!
Today was supposed to be a lovely day for Blondie.
Parent Visitation Day. For the first time ever, I could attend the whole day and watch her awesome smartness in action. She kicked butt on her spelling test. She went crazy during a math game (seriously, everyone went NUTS over these weird cards), and brainstormed up some amazing ideas for her gray wolf habitat display for the Science Fair. We were just getting ready for lunch when–you guessed it–the phone rang.
Biff and Bash’s principal.
They needed to be sent home for fighting. Fists to the face and everything.
I did my damndest to hide my tears when I told Blondie. Her reaction: not all that surprised.
For once, for FUCKING once, can’t Blondie matter more than the boys’ behavior?
But Bo works in another chunk of the state. I have to get them.
Bash’s black eye is…well it’s hopefully something to give him pause.
Biff says Bash started it by budging in line. When I asked why Biff didn’t just tell the teacher, he shrugged. Would he have punched out another kid for such an offense, or because it was Bash, then it was all-out war?
The school’s scheduled an evaluation for a behaviorist.
God, I need a drink.
Oh wait. I can’t.
No booze during Whole30.
I know you’re a good guy, Biff. You and your brother both are. Please, PLEASE, you have to show you are a good guy to others. You cannot lash out so violently over so little. Please, dear ones, please.
Okay. I can’t be dour forever. There has to be a change sometime.
And a few hours with Blondie is better than none at all.
There are other times, however, when inspiration is the last thing I get from my family.
Take this month. Writing’s been a tough racket, what with preparation for a new term, snow days, and teachers cancelling school for “professional development.” But I am a hearty Midwesterner and shall prevail! I continue working on the third Fallen Princebornnovel while prepping the first novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, to go on sale for ALL OF FEBRUARY.
(Oh yeah. Watch out for that price drop. Tell your fantasy-lovin’ friends!)
I’m also brainstorming up some fresh’n’FREETales of the River Vineand a few other stories to be shared exclusively with newsletter subscribers.
So I’m developing another project, one I alluded to a while back: a fantasy adventure story featuring twins who need to learn the strengths of brotherhood. (Can’t imagine where I found the inspiration for that story…)
I had an epiphany about what to name the brothers, but realized the names would require permission from a big-time person in order to pull it off. That meant having a title and rough synopsis worked out. Typing up a wee synopsis was one thing, but the title…ugh, the title. This is a title that must reflect fantasy, adventure, and NOT romance. For once, let’s have a story where protagonists don’t find love and/or sex in the plot. The title needs to reflect that absence. Something strong…otherworldly…
I poke the back of Bo’s neck, for surely Blondie’s math homework doesn’t have to be reviewed right this minute.
Hey. You’re a guy.
I need your take on a title.
Race the Bronze Breath.
Bo’s face twists. He stifles a laugh…then gives up and lets it out. “Seriously?”
What? It’s racing. It’s fantasy.
Bo’s still laughing. “What’s that even mean?”
I…I dunno. I just thought it sounded cool and steampunky.
“Well racing’s fine. Racing says something’s got a time limit, and it’s, you know, tense. But what’s bronze breath?”
Okay, I get it, it doesn’t work. What kind of fantasy adventure title would work for dudes?
Bo without blinking: “Not Game of Thrones.”
That is not a title.
I think about my brainstorm of race names, the current YA titles out there that are really long, a touch blunt.
How about Break the Centurion or Die Trying?
Bo throws down the pencil: “Again, what…are you trying to be Sergio Leone?”
Well then YOU think of a cool dude title.
“Racing Adventure with Marathon Quest.”
O-kay. But that doesn’t sound really dangerous.
“Super Killer Race of Deathly Death.”
“Bloody Hearts of Death Kill the Dead.”
Blondie looks up from her fraction muddle. “Bloody Heart of the Dragon’s Throne!”
Hush, that doesn’t…well, hmmm. I write it down anyway, even though I wasn’t planning on having any dragons this time round. Time for a squeeze and a kiss for my eldest.
Thanks, Kiddo. Now back to those fractions!
Bo follows me as I scribble in my notebook, all the way down the hall where I plop down on our bed. I click the pen in that fast, annoying fashion Biff adores, and say:
The problem is I do want a bit of camp to it, like Death Race 2000.Suppose I can’t call it Lethal Prix or Killer Run.
“Not if you don’t want Roger Corman to sue you…oh hey! Let’s Get Sued! Great title. And then I can get an autograph.”
“Mom, can I throw this sock away? It’s got a hole.”
“Not THAT hat, Mom, there’s a hole!”
Since the start of school Biff and Bash have put holes in three hats, five pairs of pants, two pairs of snow pants, six socks, and one snow boot. Hell, Biff still has a hole in his smile.
The holes in the new Star Wars hat were particularly impressive. “What was he doing, growing horns?” said Bo when I showed him. Biff can only shrug as he kneels with his cars, the knees of these jeans already threadbare.
Unlike my grandmother,I am no seamstress. Better to find a pair of jeans at the thrift store for a couple of dollars than to poke my fingertips with a needle for hours. Unfortunately, this propels the vicious cycle of worn jeans wearing out faster with boys who love to crawl, kneel, wrestle, and so on. All I can do is keep the few pairs of still-kneed jeans safe for school while the torn pairs are worn on weekends. Surely God doesn’t mind seeing bare grubby knees in church now and again.
Curious: as a child, I never wore anything torn. Oh, we had hand-me-downs galore, but everything was always kept stitched and tidy. Perhaps it was a point of parenting pride for my mother, that even on so little, her children would always be presentable.
And to a point I have to agree: I can’t bring myself to take the kids on errands in their PJs. I’ll use my own spit to wipe a child’s face if I don’t see a bathroom anywhere. It’s a point of parenting pride that my kids are dressed and (mostly) clean.
But holes in knees, in sleeves? Pish. That’s what duct tape is for. The kids’ll outgrow those clothes soon enough.
It’s the holes in character I will not abide. Not as a writer, not as a mother.
What do I mean by holes in character? Lack of empathy. Kindness. Imagination. Ever since my boys were toddlers I’ve had to pull them apart, bear cubs down to the clawing hands and vicious growls. I’ve feared one, even both, could grow up to be a bully feared by other children. Ever since my daughter discovered technology I’ve feared that she’ll let the virtual world dance its pretty colors to bewitch her, each new button click a chip at her creativity until it is utterly broken and buried beneath the hulking troll of apathy. I’ve seen these holes in other children. They belittle, dismiss, hurt. And the earlier these holes appear, the bigger they’re going to get unless they’re patched.
Mothers are often seen patching holes, but what of our own holes? Ever since the summer of stitches my confidence in safety has been torn wide open. I’m quick to see the worst-case scenario in everything. You say “trip to the park,” I say “Falling off the monkey bars.” You say “swimming pool,” I say “drowning.” You say “getting groceries,” I say “running into an old lady while fighting with the grocery cart and knocking over a display of glass olive oil bottles.” (And I can say that because this nearly happened. I managed to stop the cart after only one bottle fell and not all several dozen.) Point is, I’ve a hard time patching up my fears. Damn hard, after seeing the blood pour from holes in my sons’ skin.
But the holes in Bash’s eyebrow, on Biff’s forehead–they healed. These little bear cubs may fight now and again, but they help each other, too. When Bash was too tired to keep trick or treating, Biff asked for candy to give his brother. When Biff was sick, Bash gave him extra blankets and comfie animals to hug.
And Blondie? Oh, Blondie. Sure, she enjoys her game time, but even she grows tired of the screen. She can build up and take down Lego concoctions for hours. She’ll make up conversations between characters in her favorite comics, and later draw her own.
More than anything else, each child is filled with unbridled joy over sharing love. Blondie’s excitement to use her own money to buy presents for her brothers. Bash’s happiness to snuggle with me next to the Christmas tree through the dawn. Biff’s glee to stand with me in the church choir and sing the Hallelujah Chorus, his voice loud and proud, so excited he cheered for us all at song’s end. “That was amazing! Fist Bump! High Five!”
So their snowpants are patched with duct tape. So we go back to the thrift store for more pairs of worn jeans. We’re all of us frayed somewhere, but that does not stop us from living.That is the mark of strong character: for all the scuffs and tears upon us, those tears do not destroy what’s in us. My children remind me of that every day as they run, knees popping in and out of decimated denim, lost in yet another story of their creation. Holes are nothing to the binding threads of love and imagination.
As 2018 draws to a close, I want to give a special thanks to all who have supported me on my journeys as a writer and mother. Your support here gives me the gumption to keep my chin up no matter what shit life threw at me. You are all blessings in my life I shall never take for granted.
Now, let’s see what 2019 shall bring us, eh? Perhaps another novel or two? Perhaps some tales of adventure from my children real and fictional? Perhaps some naked mannequins glued to wings and hanging from the ceiling above a giant carousel while the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse gather dust by the dead orchestra?
Human nature’s a funny thing. One minute, Blondie and the boys can be sharing Legos, talking up a whole world of transforming mystery cars and ships racing across the arctic to find the polar express and rescue Santa buried under a mountain of presents. The next:
“Bash, I want that piece!”
“You can’t have it, Biff, it’s mine!”
“Mooooom, Blondie’s got a piece I neeeeeeeeeeeeed!”
Suddenly, they don’t want to give. Suddenly, there is something so wanted by one child’s nature that they would rather sacrifice the peace, the fun, and the television privileges in order to punch one another into submission.
That’s usually not the kind of sacrifice we as readers or writers like to celebrate. Such a turn against the greater good for one’s own gain is often seen as the Betrayal, the mark of a hero turned villain. There’s a fair few of those in literature and film alike: Winston in 1984, Casca in Julius Caesar, Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Some, like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, do come round and redeem themselves. Others, like Mr. Wickhamin Pride and Prejudice, do not, even under duress. Yes, these sacrifices are crucial to the narrative arc: they are, after all, a chance for characters to show their true colors, incite incidents, climax, etc.
But as today is Thanksgiving, I’d like to focus on the kinds of sacrifices people both real and imagined will make for the sake of…well, for the sake of a Good.
Lots of little sacrifices are made every day. Or night, if you prefer.
Take Biff here.
After I kiss him and Bash goodnight and turn off their room light, this boy flicks on his mining hat from the museum to read. Every night he stays up to dig deep into pages of Calvin and Hobbes, monster trucks, outer space, Snoopy, fairies, biology, droids, and everything between. I take care to check in on when I go to bed, for Biff often falls asleep on top of the book with the light dimly flickering across the tip of his nose.
For this son of mine, the sacrifice of sleep is worth the chance for one more journey into a good book. I doubt few of us would disagree with that. 🙂
Time is often sacrificed in this life, sometimes by choice, and sometimes not. I’ve written about the difficulty in giving up writing time. This month I was determined to dedicate at least one evening to my daughter, and take her away from all school, writing, and brotherly obligations to revel in one of her passions.
The Zoozort event at school gave kids a chance to learn and touch some amazing animals, from an endangered fennec fox to an albino Burmese python. (Yes, Blondie actually pet a python. Not pictured: the tortoise that peed everywhere. Also not pictured: the hilarity that ensued.)
Doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice, a mere two hours. But for a daughter who’s so often had to occupy herself when the boys act up, who has to catch us running up and down the hall in the midst of cooking/dinner/cleaning/dishes/ laundry/teaching/writing/ choir/on and on and on just to show us her picture, her story, her A+…Two hours of a parent sitting still next to her, focusing on her, and reveling in her excitement is no “mere” anything.
Now don’t let this moment get you thinking I’m such a kind, sweet mother. When Bash woke up sick, my first thought wasn’t, “Poor thing, how can I make him better?”
No. It was, “Dammit, there goes my writing time.”
Oh, I wasn’t going to give it up easily. I threw on his favorite Transformers up on the tv, found his favorite music, whatever. Gave him books, encouraged him to sleep.
But in the end, all he wanted was Mommy. He and Hoppy even came to the table, set up a toy computer.
“Look, Mommy, I can work with you!”
Fine, just let Mommy work.
Five minutes later: “Can I sit on your lap?”
Three minutes later: “Can I pleeeease sit by you?” Hoppy squeaks and nods towards the big chair by the fireplace.
My NaNoWriMo word count shames me. I owe another writer interview answers. I’m supposed to reach out to a few other writers about co-promotion. I need to market. I need to plan. I need to write.
Yet there’s a tiny, sick little boy at my side, asking for Mommy’s comfort. How long will those tiny hands and tinier voice reach out to me, a source of love in his world?
Oh Bash. You are the source of love today.
I left writing behind that day to nestle with Bash and Hoppy to read Care Bears, talk about school, Christmas, and any thing his little six-year-old mind could think. At one point he looked outside and saw the half-moon, pale and shy in the blue sky. “Look, Mommy, a Dream Moon!”
What kind of dreams does the Dream Moon give?
“Dreams of looooove,” he says with that sly grin of his, eyes all squinty. Then his forehead furrows. “Or nightmares. That’s why you have to go to the Apple Castle and talk to Prince Hoppy.” And so the story went, filled with candy races and carrot swords.
Most stories we read contain sacrifices a bit more grandiose than lost writing time.
The website Ranker came up with an interesting list of fictional characters who sacrifice themselves to save the day. I’m sure some of the choices wouldn’t surprise you: Snape’s on there, and Gandalf. Both Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. Spock. That guy at the end of Tale of Two Cities (Yes, I know he has a name. Yes, I had to look it up. It’s Sydney Carton, if you’re curious.) Heck, my own heroine Charlotte gives up her own life and all her dreams for a future in music in order to save her sister Anna from the curse of River Vine.
Would Star Trek: the Wrath of Kahn be so memorable of Spock just gave more time to the warp core and repaired it? Would we still be quoting Sydney Carton if he said, “It is a far, far better thing to give up one’s weekend in the law library in order to discover the legal precedent that negates the Habeus Memphis Randu and blah blah blah”?
Probably not. We just don’t associate “high stakes” with giving up an evening. We expect to see life on the line, be it one, a hundred, a million, more.
And a quote I came across on Goodreads strikes upon why:
“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.”
― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
Stories of power are born out of sacrifice. They come from the conflict in us to relinquish that which we hold dear in order for another to fulfill her dream, for another life to go on. We cannot help but admire the selflessness, and cheer them on for saving the Good and vanquishing the Evil.
But as writers, it is our responsibility to remember that sacrifice doesn’t have mean having yet another Sydney Carton iteration in our story. Sacrifices can be just as harrowing without death to create engaging narrative that inspires characters and readers alike: giving up custody of a child to the one who can truly parent and support. Turning over power of attorney to one’s children. Leaving vices behind for the sake of the family. Handing over a night of hard-earned tips to the homeless family outside the mall. Giving children a chance to experience the toys and books we’ve kept locked in boxes for years in the name of nostalgia.
Giving up a night of work to sit with a little girl and watch a tortoise pee on other kids’ shoes.
Sacrifices do not have to require death. They have only to require love.
Eight years of love went into this novel. One of the most important themes I got to explore in those eight years was that of family. Families are not always connected by bloodlines. So, so often, families are made with stronger stuff: love, respect, kindness, compassion, and…well, sacrifice. On this day of family and gratitude, I’d like you to have Fallen Princeborn: Stolenfor free.
Yup. Totally free.
All I ask in return is that you leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Every review, and I mean EVERY review, helps a writer’s visibility in the virtual market.
While on a brief family holiday in the North Woods of Wisconsin I find myself blessed with another award from fellow writers JI Rogersand Ann Marie Swaim. I do hope you will check out their stories and sites—they never cease to amaze me!
Let’s settle in around this campfire, well stocked with boxes of crackers and chocolates, marshmallows and cider, and talk as the cedar’s smoke soothes us from a long summer’s day in the water.
Do me a favor—keep Bash away from the extra kindling, please.
What’s your favorite water sport? To play and/or watch.
Apart from kid-watching, you mean?
Look, my son Biff’s over there in the yard now. You hear him with that soccer ball? He’s throwing at the campsite’s sign and yelling, “I tackled it! Home run points!”
That should tell you how involved we are with sports in my family.
What book would you recommend that everyone read?
My answer hasn’t changed in years: Diana Wynne Jones’ Reflections on the Magic of Writing. There is so so so SO much here to unpack. She’s got lots to share about craft in the way only Jones can: with firm experience and wicked humor. She’s also open to sharing her thoughts on the stickier points of being an author, like conflicts with publishers and horrible school visits. But what I love the most is her openness about her life. She had a nasty childhood during World War II, and learning how she battled such dark years with stories made me feel like I could battle my own depression with stories, too.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that, because if I start, I will not stop.
What can move you more, images or words?
This is a tough one. Often I daydream in words, but I find myself more often moved by images around me. I can see something—a peculiar clump of trees stranded in a corn field, for instance—and a story just, well, comes. I wonder what’s in the trees, and can imagine a long-forgotten cabin, walls cracked and falling in, mold creeping in from every side, bat scat and raccoon refuse littered about…save for one corner, where a trap door remains, pristine and perfect, waiting for just the right curious hand to open it…
Who in your life (living or dead) provided you with the best inspiration?
You know, a year ago, I’d probably have said my dad. After all, he and I spent hours together going over my stories, polishing them to perfection for school.
No, it’s that I have children. My children need me sane.
I am their caregiver. I am their lap, their hug, their kiss goodnight. I am their maker of macaroni and cheese. I am their bedtime reader. I am their music finder, movie player. I am their clean underwear finder and silly face laugher. I cannot be any of these things unless I have a clear head and steady heart. How do I get these? By dumping all the nastiness of me onto the page before it infects them.
Biff, Bash, and Blondie are my drive to write on. I write to be what my kids need me to be.
What I need me to be.
What has been the hardest struggle to overcome to keep on blogging?
So often I worry that what I’m writing isn’t worth reading. Why should anyone care what I think about this composer/author? Who really wants to read m’ramblins’ about raising children?
Speaking of which, mind Blondie doesn’t eat another hot dog, that crazy little carnivore. Biff, stop throwing marshmallows into the fire!
Your writing will make you vulnerable. After all, we’re taking the innermost parts of ourselves—our ideas—and translating them into words intended to provoke thought and, in some cases, emotion. It can be painful to do, but it’s also what makes good writing worth reading. It’s what make stories resonate.
Over the course of three years, I’ve learned that artists don’t just struggle with craft, but with Life. They’ve got their own issues with kids. Their battles own with grief. Their injuries with abuse, with depression. When I feel like I have nothing to say as a writer, then I write as a parent, a child, victim. There is always a part of me that has something to say. It’s just a matter of finding that part.
What do you feel is the best blog post you’ve written to date and why?
Oh man. Um…let me get the kids into the cabin first. I need to move my chair, too…the smoke always finds me, draws tears from my eyes.
“The Machete and the Cradle” is the very first post I published on Jean Lee’s World, and it deals with just how dangerous my postpartum depression became during my children’s early years. It’s a time I cannot think upon without cringing from myself. I look at my sons now, poking each other with a koala and a bunny while nestled into their Planes: Fire and Rescuesleeping bags, and to think how close I came to abandoning one of them…
But I overcame that shame in the shadows, and managed to find the words to cast those shadows into the fire. This burning is one of the most difficult things I ever did, and considering where I and my family are now, it is most definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Do you plan your blogs in advance and schedule their release or just blog by the seat of your pants? Or a combo?
It’s a combo. Sometimes I get a fire of ideas I want to share and I whip out a month’s worth of blogs in one afternoon, while other weeks (especially this past summer) I’m up late Wednesday night typing for Thursday’s post.
When you’re being creative, do you prefer quiet or some form of sound (music, audiobook…) in the background?
Always music, always! I get frustrated when I don’t have the right music to write, so much so the story gets muddled in my head. 95% of the time I use instrumental music, but every now and again a song with lyrics hits the atmosphere just right, especially when the words speak to the characters’ feelings.
If your home was on fire and you could only save one book, which would it be?
I wouldn’t go for a typical book. I’d grab whatever creations my children made: the boys’ drawings, Blondie’s stories. Those will always mean more than any other book. There could be a signed copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in my house, and I’m still goin’ for the kids’ work, because THOSE can never, ever be found anywhere else.
If you had to choose one of your current projects to tell a group of strangers about, what would it be?
As the stars take hold of the sky behind the plume of fire’s smoke?
Campfires are the perfect place to share the darker stories. Be they the fantasies of my childhood, like Dark CrystalorWitches, or the epics beloved by my father like Highlander and Dune, we sit here with the dying embers surrounded by countless dancing shadows of tales. Anyone, anything could be prowling around out there, beyond the fire’s reach, just waiting for its moment to sit, be seen, be heard.
My Fallen Princeborn Omnibus dances among such shadows. It comes from the hidden lands of magic, escaping from shapeshifters cursed and gifted, wielding weapons wicked and beautiful. Not only do these stories come for the thrill of the spirit and heart, but to help define what it is to be a family.
I hope that, after all is packed back into the truck and we’ve returned to civilization’s plumbing, you’ll stop by for my cover reveal and ARC giveaway.
I’m giving away 1,000 copies of Stolen through BookFunneland Instafreebie starting September 1st. Yup. One THOUSAND. That be a whoooole lotta copies! But this is my first novel, and I’m keen to hear how readers see the world I’ve seen in my head for years. Next week, as I sit us all down in the cluttered living room for punch and a slide show from my vacation, I’ll start the countdown to the cover reveal of Stolen and the giveaway. Don’t be late!
Now, before I look into the cabin to see who’s jumping on top of whom for a comy circus show, I’d like to nominate 11 more artists for the Liebster Award. Wander this endless campground and stop by their sites sometime. Their fires each burn with unique passions in art, photography, music, writing. Rekindle your own creativity with a shared s’more and smile.
Questions to pick my nominees’ brains on creatin’ and stuff:
What would you consider to be your earliest creative work that foreshadowed the passion to come? Be it taken on a disposable camera, doodled in a school book, or tooted on a kazoo, those school-day scribbles count for something!
If you could gain you favorite living artist’s permission to create an homage of their work (for example, writing a fan fic story with your favorite character), who would you approach and what character would you write with?
I’m always looking for strategies to fight back the distractions. How do you focus yourself in the sea of Life’s Noise to create?
What are the three most inspirational places you’ve ever visited?
Time for the dead artists now! If you could sit down for a cuppa or a pint with any dead artist, who would it be and why?
What’s one stereotype people always apply to you because of who you are/where you’re from? Just for an example—I grew like a corn stalk when I was a kid, so EVERYONE assumed I was really good at sports like basketball. Guess what I suck at? ALL SPORTS. Because I live in Wisconsin, people around me just assume I’m a fellow Green Bay Packers fan. Guess what I hate watching? FOOTBALL.
If there’s one book on craft in your passion you’d recommend to every fellow artist in your field, what would it be?
Favorite grilled food? The answer should be bratwursts, but because you’re friends, I’ll try to keep an open mind. 🙂
Okay, I’m not, I repeat, NOT, a huge Disney fan, but even I’ve got a few favorite Disney films, like Something Wicked This Way Comes. What’s your favorite Disney film? No, Pixar doesn’t count.
And speaking of films, what’s one movie you’re kind of embarrassed to admit you like, but you just can’t help yourself? (Krull, since we’re sharing.)
Share your current endeavors! C’mon, you deserve a chance to plug your work. 🙂
I hope to inform my nominees over the next few days.
When Aionios Books offered me a contract, I lost all feeling in feet and fingers. I just waved my arms like Wallace scheming to land on a moon full of cheese.
Bo looked at me with a Gromit-ish eye roll, but was proud, nonetheless.
Part of the plan put to me by Gerri Santiago involved splitting my manuscript for Fallen Princeborn: Stolen into two books. She explained that the word count was a bit much for Young Adult.
150,000 words is too much? That’s only 600some pages of…you know, a debut novel from an author hardly a soul knows.
Okay, let’s split it.
The most apt place for the severance comes at the end of Fallen Princeborn‘s second act: the heroes have just battled one crew of baddies and are regrouping before the baddie crew arrives. With Stolen’s new arc set, Gerri has been helping me see areas where world-building can use more color, where pov voices require more definition–you know, the stuff I bother other writers about in my interviews.As Book 1 blooms all bright and pretty, Act III-turned-Book 2 looks more and more…wee.
I open the “book” and scope out its word count.
Where’s the book?
A single act does not a book make. It introduces fresh villains, sure, but Book 2’s narrative can’t pick up immediately where Stolen leaves off without some fresh establishment of the core cast, touching up on the setting, redefining the voices of the protagonists and narrator, and bringing in EVERYTHING THAT MAKES A STORY.
No, Writer Me, don’t panic. That’s still 50,000 words of material to utilize. Those characters who only got a cameo so they could be saved for later? Let’s flesh’em out now. That whole new breed we introduce but don’t really dwell on? Visit their realm and see what makes them tick. The new villains we get to meet in these 50,000 words? Give’em more words. Let them breed a bit more treachery, let them show their gilded goodness before their truly nasty mettle. And just what are these people, anyway? Let’s wade into the murky swamp of Magic’s history.
Thanks to the severance, these trying times for the heroes have a chance to be truly trying. Why cram all these dramatic moments together? This is a book, not a movie trailer.
But while Fallen Princeborn originally had eight years to mature, Book 2 needs to be rewritten in half a year while maintaining some semblance of motherhood over the little Bs, teaching, writing book reviews, website stuff, and more. These obligations are not going away. By hook or by crook, Book 2’s manuscript must be completed by June’s end.
That’s only, oh, another 50,000 words…the same word count challenge for National Novel Writing Month. This means writing at 1700 words a day, or fall short of the finish line.
Ever try to write with a five-year-old sitting on your head?
Yeah, there’s a deadline, and yeah, it’s frickin’ scary. Some days I might only get 1,000 words done, or even less, and then other days crank out an insane 5,000. The point is we can’t afford to think about the time we don’t have. We must embrace the race to write. Steal every minute we can. There will be stumbling blocks, there will be plot holes, but we’ll get to those in the editing. For now, it’s time to hurl ourselves into the story and run.
Blondie zips her Mega Man sweatshirt and pulls its puffy hood up over her long, tangled hair. It’s a Friday night. Daddy’s home. Biff and Bash are racing each other to see who’s going to need stitches first. I ain’t stickin’ around for that.
I’m going to take my daughter out for her birthday.
I see her now, on the verge of 8, and pray I haven’t set the “Cats in the Cradle” prophecy in motion:
As a parent working from home, it’s already a challenge finding those hours when I can teach kid-free, let alone grade papers and handle student questions. Plus, there’s that awful tradition of the American Summer Vacation. What kind of society demands parents handle their own kids all day for three months in a row? Outrageous!
Blondie’s equally annoyed. “I wish school was all year,” she says in the car, half-reading, half-looking out the window. “I never get to see anyone in summer.”
I wince at this truth. Planning play-dates with kids across three different towns sucks. Other parents put their kids in half a dozen leagues and classes every summer. We can’t afford a birthday party for Blondie, let alone soccer club.“At least you can attend summer school in the morning like your brothers this year, and make some new friends.” I silently thank God yet again that the school administration allowed Blondie to sign up for their free summer program even though she’s enrolled elsewhere for the regular school year. With all these kids on our street, she’s bound to connect with somebody, and then all the cross-county play-datingcould stop. What a time-saver!
Blondie winces at this truth. “I guess.”
Wisconsin doesn’t feel like stepping out tonight. Thick grey clouds block any sign of sunlight. The rain is cold, but not hard enough to clean my windshield of some presents dropped by the robins. “You’ll have lots of time to work on your stories this summer, too. And your inventions.” Every story Blondie has written over her 2nd grade year is now piled on my desk. I want to keep them somewhere special. I want to show her in ten years’ time how she loved writing about puppies and dragons going on adventures despite family funerals involving cancer. I want to show her how smart she was with punctuation and grammar at such a young age, how her voice was already taking shape, even then.
For now, I get a shrug. “Can you tell me where we’re going now?”
“Nope.” When I told Blondie we couldn’t afford a party…when those big blue-grey eyes looked down, and her big-girl nod of, That’s okay, Mom, like all the other That’s okay’s when I needed to teach, to write…for once, I just wanted to say:
No, that’s not okay, Kiddo. You and I are gonna have some fun together. No boys, no work. We’re gonna go to a party place with lots of music and lights, and a giant disco ball just like you wanted. We’ll have pizza and roller skate and fall on our butts and laugh. For one night, I want you to be the center of my world.
I wanted to tell her all these things, but Bo and I decided it would be better as a surprise. The girl never expects me to be the one to take her anywhere. I’m hoarding my time like coins in an R2-D2 piggy bank: ten minutes reading here, half an hour editing there. A free hour is like finding a soggy ten on the sidewalk. Two hours? A twenty wedged in a park bench.
But when I got that big-girl nod, I locked myself in my bedroom and pulled the R2-D2 piggy bank out of the closet. The minutes jingled like so many pennies scrimped and pinched from across the years. My daughter’s years.
That’s okay, Mom.
I bring the hammer down.
“We’re here!” I turn off the engine. Skate World flashes on and off in bright yellow. Clusters of families and teens already line up to enter. “This is gonna be so much fun!” I unbuckle my belt and turn around, ready to take her hand and step out and under disco lights.
Her belt is not unbuckled.
Blondie’s eyes dart between the sign and people, never me. “Oh.” Pause. “I didn’t know we were coming here.”
“Surprise!” The bubbles grow in my voice to counter the confusion rooting within. “I know you had so much fun here last year with your friends, I thought this year we could come together, just you and me. No brothers or anything.” I grin.
She does not. “Oh.” Pause. “Are you skating, too?”
“Of course! I’m gonna fall on my butt a lot, but it’ll be fun!” My voice keeps sliding down exclamation marks. I don’t know how many more are left before the bottom.
“But,” Blondie fidgets with her belt—not the buckle, “that’s just a friend place.”
“I see other kids going in with their moms and dads. We can too!”
“But.” This “but” shakes in the air, left out in the cold, rainy space, “but someone bad might be in there.”
I have no exclamation points to counter this. “Someone bad? Kiddo, what are you talking about? It’s just all kids skating and falling on their butts, just like us.”
“But, but, but—”
“But WHAT?” I snap.
Now, she looks at me. Her tears sparkle beneath the Skate World light. “What if someone laughs at me?” Her mouth trembles, and she sobs with such a fear that I am dumbstruck. “Please don’t be mad!”
She must see my face and I can’t lie: part of me is.
I smashed that bank. I brought all those coins and ripped bills of time to exchange for some memories, dammit. I didn’t give up an entire evening of work time to drive through four towns to pull into a parking lot only to have a sobbing child refuse to leave the car over made-up situations about a place she’s only visited once before in her life.
I. I. I.
I take one last look at the flashing lights and laughing kids. Start the engine. Turn around.
“That’s okay, Blondie.”
Mullen’s is an ice cream parlor on the edge of Watertown’s main drag. I went here with my grandparents after walking the river’s boardwalk to feed ducks. My friends and I often walked here on weekends at the boarding school, eager to trade some cafeteria wages for fried cheese curds and a sundae.
Tonight, it’s just Blondie and me.
Blondie pokes a pink finger through a hole in the brick wall. “Woooow, this place is oooold.” I glare right back at the old biddy with her tidy glass of ice water tisking Blondie’s impertinence and let the waitress show us all the available flavors. Blondie picks two scoops of vanilla with lots of sprinkles, and leads me to the red vinyl seat by the window so she can watch the cars rush by in the rain.
I tell her stories of running through the downpours back to school to make curfew, of the loud screen door always slamming on my little fingers when my own grandmother would get me a treat after an eternal visit to the fabric store. Blondie listens, eats. Smiles.