My Father

The person I am today is mostly because of the influence of my father.

He was the man who taught me how to play chess. Now I know how to play it, and yet I am not very good at it. Doesn’t matter. We still taught how to play chess to my niece and nephew and I intend on showing friends who don’t know the moves how to play chess even if we never actually play.

He was the man who taught me a love of story. He always had so many. He was constantly telling them. There was the story from his early military days about how he got lost from his group in Korea for three days. It was the early 50’s, he was in a segregated group for the Puerto Ricans, and it was his first time off the island. Somehow he managed to survive by hiding out in houses and continuing in the same direction he thought they had been heading when he ran across another group of Americans. He couldn’t tell them who he was because he spoke no English at the time, but when he started speaking Spanish they knew who he was right away. He said when he was reunited with the Puerto Ricans, they were so happy to see him they almost carried him off.

He would always repair things, cracking them open to take a look at how he could fix them. I learned that things didn’t have to be thrown away– my dad could make them work and I could keep them forever. (In truth, he probably just could not afford to buy anything new unnecessarily, and he couldn’t stand seeing his daughter cry about her favorite broken toy.)

He had a love of animals that ran deep. He used to get so upset when my mother brought home pets, but it was only because he hated to get attached and watch them die. The only time I ever saw him sob was when he had to take our dog Shadow to the vet to be put down. Unfortunately for my dad, animals loved him. Every new dog my mom got for herself ended up at my dad’s side.

He loved to make people laugh. King of the Dad jokes I say. He would tell the most groan worthy non-puns. Just a few months ago, we went out shopping and as he walked up to the counter, he leaned in with his eyebrows raised and asked the bored-looking cashier, “What do you do if I can’t pay? Will you buy it for me?”

My dad let me be myself. I’ve always been a slightly strange kid, and he never made me feel that way. He put up with me making up super long stories over my picture books before I could read, and he looked over barely legible stories written in pencil that made no sense. If he couldn’t understand it, he would tell me so. He never made me feel strange. He supported my habits, helping me find boxes to store my comics in or buying me a cassette case to hold my old Teddy Ruxspin tapes in. He was always there for every performance (usually with my big sister, Aida, at his side). He handed me his Royal typewriter when I said I needed to learn to write faster and taught me how to type using all of my fingers (even though he really only used two, he just explained the theory.) After the typewriter stopped being enough, we went out and got the 486 computer that I still have.

Monday night, he had a heart attack. I managed to squeeze his hand in the hospital room as they prepped for operation. Before they wheeled him off I looked him in his eyes one last time. We always said “I love you.” After my sister, everyone always says it in place of good-bye. I didn’t say it, but I didn’t have to. That man was the world to me, and he knew it.

Me and dad My Dad

Thoughts on Personality

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before. I’ve become one of those cat ladies. I went through my Dropbox recently to clear up space, and much of it was pictures of cats sleeping. Multiple pictures sometimes of the same catnap. But going through the pictures made me remember what my cats were like when they first got here– especially my grey cat.

Danger helping me play Sims.

Danger helping me play Sims.

Our black cat has always been a little rambunctious. The first time we held her at the vet’s office where we adopted her from, she jumped off my boyfriend’s shoulders to jump onto a shelf full of neck cones. We were alone in the room, just us and the cats, and immediately, Jay and I felt like we’d committed a minor offense of some sort. “Cat, you can’t do that! Get back here!” My boyfriend fell in love with her immediately.

The cat that I would choose happened to be the exact opposite. He was timid. They put him in my arms and warned me he was a “bolter.” That’s why they shut us in the room. So when he ran off, they could find him again. He froze in my arms, tiny claw digging into my skin. When I put him back down in his cage, he hid behind his food bowl, every so often popping his head up to see if I was still there.

First few weeks he spent in hiding. This was the box we brought him home in.

First few weeks he spent in hiding. This was the box we brought him home in.

Curious kitty! The only way we could get him out was by dangling things in front of him.

Curious kitty! The only way we could get him out was by dangling things in front of him.

Completely ridiculous kitty.

Completely ridiculous kitty.

My timid kitty is the one who most got me thinking about personality. Growing up around pets (mostly dogs) I have always accepted that they each have a unique personality, and that once an animal is gone, no other animal will replace it. But watching these two cats, I became amazed at how much personality they have and just how much it can change over time with the right nurturing.

This previously timid cat now stands up on higher ledges to meow with determination when it is time to feed him the good food at night. He uses his purrs to manipulate us when he wants to come into the bedroom. He stands in our way in the morning when he wants attention, no need to really ask for it. He still slinks into my lap though when I sit on the couch with some hesitation. And if he gets outside, the world that used to scare him actually intrigues him, and he will walk away from the door, but never too far.

I assume this is just because of his environment and us. He has learned that he can trust us. He can trust our friends. When people come over, if he knows and trusts them he will flop over and wait for them to give him belly rubs. (The flopping over is cute, and I have to tell people he’s doing this to for the first time what he expects them to do.)

Trouble has made me see that personality, at the base, is simply how we respond to stimuli. His first response used to be to run and hide. Danger’s first response was to run up to the thing and start sniffing at it, possibly slap it with  a paw.

Of course, it gets much more complicated with humans, but the same basic idea seems to hold true. I’ve watched my niece and nephew grow up, and I am constantly amazed to see that so many of the mannerisms they have as adults now are exactly the same as when they were little toddlers. The way they often react to things now is similar along the lines to the way they would have acted as kids. (It kills me when I get my big nephew to sputter out a laugh that resembles the laugh he had at age five.) The difference in humans though is that we change what we want to change. If there is something we don’t like about ourselves, we can work on disguising it or controlling it. I used to be shy and had trouble looking people in the eyes. Over time and through practice, I have learned that making the first strike at welcoming a person into my space helps make the other person feel comfortable which makes me feel better as well. But that shyness hasn’t left me. I still feel the tug of it in any interaction I do. It’s quieter if I’m in a space that is all my own (like my office), but it is incredibly loud if I’m somewhere I don’t feel comfortable. And some days I don’t want to deal with that little battle, so I simply won’t.

So I’m thinking I need to look at my characters a little differently. I need to take note of their stock response and then examine how the events in their life affect that natural behavior as well as what they’ve done to change their own behavior, if they’re conscious of it at all.

Here’s why I am not worried about what other self-publishers are doing.

The poor quality of many self-published books comes up with some regularity. The most discussion has been started by Chuck Wendig who makes a point that self-publishing isn’t “amateur hour.” You should always put your best foot forward when you’re making a thing you’re going to charge money for.

Interestingly, a lot of people are either attacking him (I’ve read comments calling him a bad writer) or outright dismissing him (because he’s such a “bad writer”). People do seem to get defensive when self-publishing is called out for poor quality works. And it isn’t because they’re arguing that self-publishing books aren’t bad, more like they’re arguing for being “bad” because readers will suss out what’s bad and what is good which will then, hopefully, teach an author what doesn’t work and what does. Their next book will be better, and the book after that will be better.

Some thoughts I always have:

The people often talked about are not reading these discussions. There are plenty of people who write crap or have written crap and just throw it up online because why the hell not? Some people hope to make a little money. Some think they are honestly good and won’t hear talk that they aren’t. The people who don’t give a shit exist. But see, they don’t give a shit, so do you think they’re going to care about the call to stop publishing crap? (No. The answer is no.)

The beauty of self-publishing is that it’s open and anyone can do it. This is also the ugly side. I always say that our greatest strength are often our greatest weaknesses. The same goes for self-publishing. I can post whatever I want for whatever reasons I want. But so can the previously mentioned non-shit giving author.

Readers are not “gatekeepers.” They are customers. And customers make decisions. They can download samples of stories that sound interesting, and they can read it before purchasing. If they are not aware of this, then I don’t know what to think because the preview button is right next to the purchase button. Amazon also gives you seven days to get your money back, so if you pick up a book with a good preview that falls apart after you’ve read it, you can get money back. (At least you could last year. I feel like I’ve been gone forever. You can still do that, right?)

There are shitty publishing house books too. Sometimes a shit book is a shit book. It happens. I don’t think I’ve ever really read a crappy book– because, you know, previews– but I’ve read some books where I got to the end and I just said, “What the crap?”

These discussion are going to continue of course. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m going to keep on not caring what my neighbor is doing (unless they’re my friend and they’ve asked for my opinion). I don’t really believe it matters. Readers will find what they like, they’ll call out what they don’t like. If they swear off self-published books because of one book they read that was really terrible, well then, they are probably not your audience. There are plenty of other readers to go around, just like there are now plenty of writers.

I suck at marketing: I’d like to tell anyone happening across this blog who might be curious about how terrible or not terrible I am that I’ve placed Ruin free on Smashwords. Okay, not exactly free. It’s set to, pay what you want which means you can get it without paying anything or you can use it as a chance to tip an author. :)

How silence leads to more silence

I’ve been quiet. Too quiet. There are times where I have to retreat just because I only have so much energy to go around. And I thought last years holidays would be hard with our loss so fresh– this years holidays were no less strange or sad.

I found I couldn’t write. It’s a very constipated feeling that I’m sure everyone is familiar with. There’s a lot of advice on what to do– the best usually being to write through it. I found that I didn’t even have the energy for that. I’d come up with an idea I wanted to explore and then I just couldn’t follow through. I’d write a bit, know where I wanted to go, and STILL found myself suddenly without the energy to just complete the scene.

I’m getting some energy back now, so I am blaming the imbalance of the holidays. But it’s still hard to get back into things. I’ve been wanting to make a blog post for at least a month just to say that I haven’t given up, but I’d been away so long I didn’t exactly know where to start.

So I started writing a personal journal in an actual notebook. It’s a start. I’ve even started reviewing the stuff I’ve written last year, the ideas I’ve had, and I’m attempting to throw down some short story ideas that have been percolating under my thoughts. More starts, and hopefully a few more things that will get finished.

Letting go of fear is like agreeing to be crazy

At some point, I became afraid of failing. Is this due to age? I don’t remember being so worried when I was younger. I didn’t like getting low grades on tests and essays, but I’d look at it as a chance to learn. I’d read over every correction and figure out where I went wrong.

Where did that person go? I feel like I’ve been avoiding writing at all because I’m afraid of it being crap. I already know that not everything is going to be a gem. That doesn’t stop me from seizing up and becoming super exhausted at the prospect of starting completely over with a new story.

I needed to do something to shake things up. And so I accepted a challenge to write and publish a story within 8 hours issued by J.A. Konrath. I found out about it on Monday, and

 the “deadline” technically was Thursday. I didn’t really start until Tuesday.

But I did it. I am terrified.

My current process for writing things for release: More than a few drafts, polished as much as I think I can on my own because I don’t want to waste the time of my readers. I hand it off to a close friend for content editing. I take it back, make more changes, hand it off to another friend for content and grammar. Get it back, make more changes. Give it to another friend who is an avid reader, and a really great copy editor. Get it back, make a bunch of fixes. And then finally, I hand off a printed copy to my boyfriend and have him go over it in the picky way he does. Get it back, make more corrections. (there are always more to be made!) By the first time I’ve sent a story out, I’m sick of it.

The challenge was to write a short in 8 hours, including doing the cover on your own, the blurb on your own, and the editing on your own. I spent about six hours on the story, one hour on the cover (pitiful), half an hour on the blurb (I did get a second opinion on that blurb over lunch). And then some extra time to print it out and self-edit. I am sure I was over the 8 hour mark, but only if I count all the time I spent staring off into space while sitting in front of my computer. And I’m not.

Image

I present my short, The Hungry:

Twenty years ago, the world ended and no one will discuss it.

Rebecca, a denizen of one of the protected cities, volunteers to join the courier service in order to see out what is beyond her city’s fence with her own eyes. Is she prepared for what she will find?

Aside from one passage where I was concerned about if the action would be clear, I didn’t share any of it with my friends. I just wrote it and put it out there. I’m surprised at my own audacity. I shouldn’t think that I can do this– write something fast and put it for sale.

But I did.

The story came in at about 8,000 words. It’s marked for .99 and is only available on the Kindle. Saturday and Sunday it can be downloaded for free. Come see how badly I have screwed things up!

I don’t care about being well-known or making money

That’s it. I needed to say it out loud. Though I do get a thrill when someone buys my book (c’mon, I’m still a human writer), I didn’t really publish it for the money. Any money I have made on it goes back into the book to cover the costs of artwork. That’s pretty much it. I’m not about to make a living selling books. I’ve always known that. Still, I often beat myself up because I don’t write fast enough. Instead of encouraging me to write, it only makes me want to give up. Except that it’s impossible to stop writing. So it’s a circle that will continue, leaving me feeling like crap.

This is a new level of doubt, brought on by our modern age. There are so many books and stories out there right now that I think we all fear getting lost. If you don’t put out so many books a year, then you’re supposedly screwed.

Maybe I am. So maybe I’m fooling myself here, but I think that if people read your story and really enjoy it, they will always find a way to stay in touch. This is also the way I approach my friends. Instead of being surrounded by a lot of people I have to constantly keep in contact with, I surround myself with a few choice friends that I can call up any time, no matter how much time has passed, and have it be as if we never left off. (This might be part of why I don’t get very far on Twitter.)

My last book was published in 2011. I’d intended to have another book by summer. Ha! I look back on my hopeful self and sort of laugh. (It might still be too soon. Maybe I can fully laugh next year. Hopefully I have another book out by then.)

So here’s what it comes down to: Do I want to race a story out because I’m afraid of being forgotten? Or do I want to write a story that will strike a cord and ensure that I’m remembered? Even if only for that one story. How long will it take for that second option? I don’t know yet. I’ll tell you when I finish something good.

Senseless challenge – Fragments

He runs his hands down my body as he slides my unbuttoned shirt to the floor. The fabric lightly brushes my bare back, and a shiver of anticipation curls up my spine. I stand there as he cusps my breast, skimming my nipple with his thumb, nude before him. He leans in closely, hard body underneath the soft fabric of his shirt. The long hairs on his chin tickle against my jaw. He nips at my neck, grazing his teeth against my skin. I shut my eyes and let him take his time, enjoying the building excitement tingling down my torso. I squeeze my legs together to stop the quaking as our lips meet and begin the ravishing.

It has been this way with no one else, and will never be this way again. This I know, and it causes tears to squeeze out from my eyes now swollen shut. My moan becomes a sob. I run my hand across my stomach, feeling each individual rib between the wrinkles of the thin clothing they have issued to me. I close my eyes and let him continue to ravish me in memory. My hand trails down to my mound, no longer soft and squishy. It is now bony as my body has begun to eat itself. In my memory, he is inside me, waiting. I grab at him and beg him to continue. The vibrations of his laughter travel straight through me, right to the point of our connection.

I tug at the thin fabric of my shirt. A trail of tears grows cold on my cheek. It is either that memory or the one of my daughters screaming out for me while they drag me away, my uncovered feet scraping the asphalt. All of these moments exist at the same time. The only real thing is the cold stone my shoulder blades press against as I lay in my cell. They will come for me again. One of these times I will come back to the present to feel the heat from the guard’s leather boot trapped against my temple seconds before he drags me off. It will do no good. I have forgotten what they wish to know. All that remains are the fragments.

___________________________

A peek at Cheryl’s story, but written especially for the challenge. This one is going to be really tricky to pull off, but I have several reasons for attempting it. It’s either going to be a story, or it will be a complete train wreck.


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