Music and Writing

November 6, 2016 Leave a comment

Music is something I need like air. It feeds my soul. I was never without a book and some kind of portable music player (Walkman, Discman, and once I could afford it, the original iPod shuffle). I developed some mad mix-tape skills. Even through college, I struggled to fall asleep without something playing in the background, something that drove my roommate nuts. Well, nuttier. I used music to create a soundtrack to my life, to orchestrate my moods and to manipulate emotions. I learned to do it so well, I had my own little “therapy” sessions with one friend conducted through the intense power of music. With history like that, it’s not surprising that music is a part of my writing process. Sometimes, it’s the inspiration for an idea, sometimes it’s fuel for creativity while working, but most often, it’s both.

Everyone’s process is different, of course, but what I’ve discovered works for me lately is keeping a playlist of songs for each story I’m working on. Sometimes, I slap it together quickly with the story dictating exactly what it needs, and other times it’s as much a work in progress as the story it’s attached to.

But why is this a valuable use of my time?

  • Inspiration: Songs come to me for a reason. Either it’s the tone or mood of the song, the lyrics, or something about the story the song tells. When I’m not sure where the story needs to go, these songs tap into the lizard brain and help me pull forth that core of the story that might be hard to express in rational thought. Music helps the words flow.
  • Continuity: I write slow and I write in bursts because life. Keeping a playlist is a way of preserving a headspace for the story. I listen to it even while doing other tasks (working, shopping, driving, laundry) because it keeps the creative world churning and fresh. It helps me prime my creativity so that when ass meets chair, words happen efficiently.
  • Focus: I suck at focus almost as much as I suck at discipline. The meme about having 2,857 browser tabs open in my brain is a pretty accurate description. Add to it, though that they alternately demand attention by playing some kind of audio that makes me click over to them. It adds up to getting next to nothing done in one sitting. For me, music distracts the noisy parts of my brain. Song lyrics give the chatty, interrupt-y part of my brain something to gnaw on while the rest of me can work on writing and creating worlds with words.
  • Portability: I don’t always write at home, and I don’t always write on my computer or laptop. Having a palylist of songs, especially a private playlist saved on the internet somewhere means that even if I don’t have the physical elements that tell my brain it’s time to write, I can use the auditory clues of a playlist to make the shift. (Behavioral psychology FTW, yo.)
  • Enjoyment: My musical memory associations are as strong as scent associations. Maybe stronger. I have music that reminds me of people, of events. I have bought albums not because the music is particularly good, but because it connects me to someone or some time. The summer I painted my bedroom walls a beautiful shade of red, “Inside Out” by Eve6 was my jam and I danced almost as much as I painted. The Moody Blues make me think about my dad. There are about 4 albums that define my college experience, and one that introduced me to a part of myself I never knew existed. After writing the story, those songs are the soundtrack to that story, and it makes me smile. And I want to share that with you.

Recently, in response to the heinous HB2 legislation in North Carolina, Falstaff Books published We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality, a charity anthology benefiting Time Out Youth, Equality NC and the Queen City Theater Company. My story “Trapped” is included, and I want to share the playlist for that story with you. I have engineered the list a bit to make it flow. I cut a few songs (because they didn’t have a logical place in the playlist and because I recognize that most people can only handle so much Amanda Palmer/The Dresden Dolls.)

So, talk a walk through the weirdness of my brain. Download We Are Not This and read “Trapped.” Use this as a soundtrack as you listen, or just a companion piece to enjoy:

“Trapped” playlist – YouTube

And, if you’re interested in seeing a sliver of what I cut, here are a few bonus tracks I just couldn’t let go:

“Trapped” Bonus Tracks playlist – YouTube

Let me know what you think!

Be sure to leave a review of We Are Not This on Amazon or Goodreads, or on your own blog. Reviews help authors!

Being the Light – A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

November 1, 2016 Leave a comment

hold-on-to-the-light

Depression has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t know if I’d recognize life without its shadow. It’s affected so many people I’ve been close to, and sometimes shaped the relationship I’ve had with them. Including myself. While I’ve never been diagnosed, I recognize myself in articles about functional depression. But this post isn’t about that. There are other people braver than I writing about their personal experiences and I’m going to let them carry that part of the conversation for now. Instead, I want to talk about it from another perspective.

I’ve watched the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign grow and expand to encompass many aspects of depression, bullying prevention, mental health-related issues and more. From the beginning, I knew I had plenty to say, but I avoided writing about my experiences. Familiarity, you see, doesn’t make this an easier topic. It’s hard to talk about from every angle, though we can all agree it’s imperative we talk about it.

Holding on to the light is a theme of this campaign, but “the light” can be different for each person. Sometimes, it’s the magic in another day, or hope for the future, or simply the intellectual understanding that no matter how grim things seem, life will rebound and it will get better. For some people, “the light” might be another person. Sometimes, there’s that one person that stands by their side and helps them through the dark parts. Ideally, there’s more than one, but for some people, reaching out is hard, and that one light is hard won.

These are the people I want to talk to today.

You. Yes, you. The one that knows they’re the rock for a person who’s struggling. The one who’s lost sleep to shepherd a loved one through to the next day. The one who’s raced home mid-shift at work, who’s made random check-ins throughout the day, the one who’s stashed all the sharps and meds in the house in the trunk of your car to keep someone else safe. You’re the one who might be making the household run on one paycheck, preventing it all from falling apart in a spectacular mess.

You’re amazing. Being the light is a big deal, even if all you can do is sit in silence at their side to show support. You’re the beacon they can aim for when all else is dark.

You’re a guardian angel. Your consciousness expands to almost parental awareness and sensitivity. Few are so truly loyal as to persevere through the nasty stew depression brews for your loved one, whether that includes suicidal thoughts or actions, negative self-talk, tears, rages or just silence. And that’s all before you start on the med-go-round and side effects roller coaster until the doctor lands on the right cocktail.You’re the protector, the safe haven.

You’re their defender. Whether it’s late night talks, taking care of household chores or stepping up to take action on their behalf, you fight for them and keep them safe, even when you’re protecting them from themselves.  You’re the keeper of and chaperone for doctor’s appointments, dispensers of meds, and observer of progress, and that is an act of valor and courage.

You’re a rock. You’re steadfast in the midst of that person’s whirlwind just to keep them anchored to this world when their tether might be fraying. You’re the lifeline in deep water and that is powerful.

But you’re not made of stone and no matter how strong you are, you cannot go through this alone.

When you are a support system for someone who’s struggling with mental illness, you need a support system of your own and you need to practice self-care. Strength does not mean shouldering the stress, the anxiety and the worry in silence. Bravery is not fighting alone or secretly soldiering on in the face of the adversity these illnesses bring. Courage does not mean making excuses to hide their condition or avoiding asking for help from friends, medical professionals or other support systems to protect their secret struggle.

In order to burn bright and be the light, you need support.

Remember that even superheroes ask for help. Reach out to friends and loved ones you trust to bolster your strength and help manage responsibilities. Grab coffee with a good friend or family member who will listen to your story and offer the kind of support you need (whether that’s just a shoulder, an ear, or some advice). Share as much as you feel comfortable with, or ask for help without sharing details. If you’ve always taken on the family Christmas party, ask someone else to take a turn. If you need some help around the house, ask a close friend to come over and give you a hand. Reach out, share and connect with people who bolster and renew you. You cannot give of yourself if you don’t take time to replenish your well.

Remember that depression lies. Loved ones who fear others being involved are speaking out of an illness that thrives and self-perpetuates in isolation. Reach out to medical professionals on behalf of your loved ones when you know they are not themselves. You are a key perspective that can help a doctor make the right diagnosis, monitor treatment progress and effectiveness of medicines. Speak out when something isn’t right, when something isn’t working and advocate for your loved one. Your support can help them return to themselves.

Remember that the stigma of mental illness exists because we don’t talk about it. You can respect a family member’s privacy while still establishing a support network for yourself. If you don’t have a close friend or family member you want to get involved, look for online support groups of people going through the same things with loved ones. The internet can be a fantastic resource when you need discrete support. Monitor your own mental well-being and ask for help. You might need to talk to a therapist to help you develop coping strategies, and learn how to effectively help your loved one. There are innovative new ways of getting that support, including online counseling and text chat support.

You are amazing. Never forget that. You are making the difference in the life of someone who doesn’t have the resources to fight for themselves.

Thank you.

They will thank you, too, when they can. But, on their behalf, let me remind you that you are human. You can’t sacrifice yourself to help them, so please practice self care as you do battle. When they return to themselves, they will want you to be here, too.

Carry on being their light, but make sure you’ve got the fuel to keep burning even after they come home.

 

 

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight.

New Release – We Are Not This Charity Anthology

October 30, 2016 Leave a comment

51rxx8jz1xlI’m happy to announce that my story “Trapped” is included in the newest release from Falstaff Books, “We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality Charity Anthology.” Proceeds for this anthology go to Time Out Youth, Equality NC, and Queen City Theater Company.

This book is important to me and not only because my story is in it. Sit back and I’ll tell you a little story.

Once upon a late March afternoon in 2016, the North Carolina legislature decided that Charlotte’s inclusive stance regarding trans people using bathrooms consistent with their gender expression was a step too far in the direction of progress and equality. In reaction, a bill was introduced to the house in a special session and pushed through in a shocking burst of activity otherwise unknown in government process. Before the sun set, Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill into law.

But why is everyone so up in arms about HB2? Isn’t it meant to protect? (Read it here)

It depends on who you ask. Advocates for the bill insist it is designed to protect “women and children” against specifically male sexual predators masquerading as women to invade the privacy of public bathrooms and victimize them in that space.

But, it really doesn’t, and the bill does more than that.

The bill is a reaction to the idea of inclusion and equality recognizing trans people as people of their expressed gender identity instead of biological sex. It codifies discrimination and inequality in a way that is harmful to our fellow human beings and citizens. But despite the focus of the media and the conversation about this bill, it doesn’t ONLY target the LGBTQ community. It touches EVERYONE by preventing cities and counties from setting a minimum wage and by establishing definitions of protected classes and changes the way charges of discrimination can be adjudicated when the discrimination claim is based on race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or disability. Originally, the bill removed the ability for claimants to pursue the charges in state court, but was amended. Charges of discrimination can now be pursued in state courts, but changed the statute of limitations from 3 years to 1 year (source).

But why is this important? Is it really about the bathrooms?

No – this law makes it possible for someone to be fired simply for being gay or transgender and limits the recourse against discriminatory behaviors. (source)

Take that in. North Carolina businesses can legally fire someone for sexual orientation or gender identity.

Legal codification of discrimination is something I cannot ignore. I have spoken out about it, I have communicated with my representatives and senators, I have signed petitions and made donations. Contributing to this anthology is another way I can do something to help those who are affected by North Carolina’s reprehensible HB2 “Bathroom Bill.”

I commend John Hartness at Falstaff Books for driving the development of this anthology and for his outspoken stance against this bill. I’m honored to be included with so many awesome authors to show that We Are Not This, and that we will not tolerate hate.

Get your copy digitally now. Print editions coming soon.

Something Like a Review – The Chosen by John G. Hartness

August 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Disclosure: I know the author personally. I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

John is one of the best marketers I’ve ever seen in action. If you’ve seen him at a con, you know what I mean. No panel is complete without his signature “buy our shit” proclamation, and if you’ve never witnessed his epic readings replete with Sasquatch dick jokes, you’re missing out. So when he promoted “The Chosen” as “the book that got me fired from one of my jobs for blasphemy,” I knew I had to read it.

In true John style, “The Chosen” is an irreverent and humorous poke at things people take “super cereal.” He introduces us to an Adam and Eve (yes, THAT Adam and Eve) that will send the devout for their rosaries, an angel that will make you question both your definition and affiliation with good/evil and an unforgettable motley crew as they set off on a road trip to save the world.

One of the things I loved most about this book, and I did love it, was the knowledgeable and respectful ways religious belief was handled. And warped. I listened to this as an audiobook, but I’ll be getting my hands on a copy of “The Chosen” to see how the hell he managed to have his characters refute the creation story in a way that 1.) makes sense, 2.) was amusing, and 3.) respected the essence of the story. While I’m not religious, I could tell that Hartness is knowledgeable about the material, respects those who believe it, and yet finds ways of cutting through the poetic language and creating a plausible story.

So, if he’s so respectful, why might he have been fired for blasphemy? Well, let’s just say that after millennia of walking the Earth after their expulsion from the garden, Adam and Eve aren’t exactly what the faithful may expect. But after all they’ve witnessed, I can’t say that I blame them for the way they change. Character development, yo. Even though it’s not what many would approve of, the changes to their characters feels genuine, as if they really are people who’ve lived tens of thousands of years, witnessed some of the greatest tragedies of history, experienced their own personal tragedies and yet, still manage to function in our crazy world. Theirs is a creation story I want to believe, and the choices at the end are believable and fulfilling.

And what are those choices? Well, that’s what you’ll need to find out. Suffice to say that there’s a Pandora’s box feeling to the tone at the end (and if you know your mythology, you’ll know what I mean). I read this and was able to put all the recent tragedies and horrific occurrences aside for a little while.

Pick up this book – however you choose to ingest it, and read it. If you’re super sensitive about religion, this isn’t the book for you, but if you’re willing to have an open mind and enjoy a well-written piece of fiction with a religious (though not proselytizing) bent to it, this is the one I’d recommend.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely, especially to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. You’ll find your own reasons, I’m sure, but from this writer, my purchase is motivated by the need to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Something Like a Review – The Fireman by Joe Hill

The second I saw the promo for this release, I marked it down on my calendar. Fate intervened on my behalf and prevented me from buying it right away.

An ominous start for Something Like a Review from an author I’ve raved over in the past, isn’t it?

Patience, grasshopper.

My local indie bookstore hosted a release party for an author friend’s book, Daughters of Shadow and Blood, Book 2: Elena. While wandering the stacks, to what should my wondering eyes should appear, but an autographed copy! After spending roughly two hours cradling this substantial book to my chest, I knew I’d need to invest in a digital copy to prevent damage to my preciousssss.

Ahem.

Sorry.

Draco Incendia Trycophyton, aka Dragonscale, infects people all over the world. People spontaneously combust and spark wildfires decimating the land. The infected are feared, hunted and killed to contain the infection and prevent fires. But not everyone falls prey to the spore. Some learn to coexist with the fungus and band together to survive, living in harmony with the spore and each other.

This is a rich, complex story that has lingered in my mind long after finishing the book. The lush detail evoked a vibrant, post-apocalyptic world, but in the end, it wasn’t the spore I feared. Harper flees the world she has known after she’s infected and finds a group of survivors hiding out in the New Hampsire woods. Under the care of a mad leader, the group evolves into an zealous, persecutory evangelical knot more terrifying than the prospect of burning to death.

There’s a foreboding sparked by the realistic, plausible and almost prophetic example of the camp inhabitants and leaders and speaking to the larger problems in the real world lurking under the plot lines. Not only does it give the story depth, it creates a lasting impression of disturbance and unease.

And though expertly done, there were a few quirks that irritated me throughout the novel. Pop culture references are a pet peeve of mine because I think they can take away from the timelessness of the story. In this novel, there were a lot and covered everything from classic rock to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. A few were great and integral to the character, but overall, I could have done with less and been happy. The other quirk I hadn’t noticed in his previous books was the habit of including little “throwaway” comments. These usually appeared at the end of chapters, and while they could be considered overt foreshadowing, they felt spoilery and frustrating. Omitting them altogether would punch up the tension, but that’s my opinion.”

Like NOS4A2, there were a couple of Easter eggs throwing back to King’s universe (like a character’s behavior leading to the comment that she had “forgotten the face of [her] father.” Even as hill builds a solid reputation for himself and his work apart from the spectre of his dad’s work, these little homages make my inner (and outer) fangirl squee with delight.

Overall, I loved this book and I’m glad I’ve read so few of Hill’s books that I still have plenty to get me through until the next one.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely, especially to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. You’ll find your own reasons, I’m sure, but from this writer, my purchase is motivated by the need to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Something Like a Review – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

 The first book I read by Joe Hill was 20th Century Ghosts, and that was before I knew anything about him. I was so smitten with his work that I looked for more. To my surprise (at the time), he had a new book coming out – NOS4A2. Since I’m kind of a nerd for reading license plates, I was stoked over the vampire reference. Get it? Stoked? *rimshot*

On release day, I bought the hardback – an expense only reserved for my most favorite authors – yet I still didn’t have time to sit down and read it. Since I had audible credits, I snagged it, downloaded it and listened.

Hill tells a fantastic story, weaving character and world-building detail with enviable skill. Victoria’s ability to find things leads her to a magical passage to take her wherever she wants to go. But even her benign magic goes wrong, leading her to Richard Manx and his ’38 Rolls Royce Wraith. Victoria escapes Manx’s attempt to  whisk her away to “Christmas Land.” Years later, it’s her son in Manx’s magical car, and she has to get him back before he’s changed forever.

One would think that a place called “Christmas Land” is a place any child would want to go, but Hill makes even the most appealing place a horrifying prospect. While you feel the child you were celebrating the prospect, the adult recoils as the story unfolds. It’s chilling, and not just because of the snow.

As if losing myself in a great story by a great author wasn’t enough, imagine my delight in discovering Stephen King universe Easter eggs. This was the story that secured future shelf space for more Hill books and recruited me to his legion of fans.

Though comparison to King is unnecessary (and a bit unfair), the biggest compliment I can pay Hill is that he’s taken up King’s mantle as a Master of Horror, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Absolutely. I want to go back and read the dead tree version and see what I missed!

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. Just yes.

Something Like a Review – Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

We all have a special place in our hearts for the loud, brash personalities in our world. How else do you explain the popularity of the “carny-handed mango man,”or Nigel Farage?  Or the she-beast, Ann Coulter?

Granted, that place we hold for the blustery and abrasive might be a gator-filled swamp or an oubliette, but hey, those are places.

And sometimes, we seek out these personalities because we sense the benevolence behind the shock-and-awe tactics that make us laugh. For me, this is the lure of Chuck Wendig.

Everyone has their own opinion, of course, but I find Wendig’s particular brand of hyperbolic (and sometimes juvenile) humor is exactly the sugar to help me swallow writer life lessons and general insight buried within. I’ve drunk deep of his audacious wisdom from his daily blog posts at terribleminds.com, his Kick-Ass Writer and all his other writing books. But, until now, all I’d read was his writing advice.

Intrigued by the hype around his new cyber-thriller, Zer0es, I picked it up. The premise of technology becoming a horror thrilled me, and I had to see what he could do.

Overall, this is a great book, though I say that with a caveat.

When I was still in the first third of the book, my writing group was discussing what we were reading. I mentioned this one, and there was a lot of curiosity about it given Wendig’s blustery portrayal of himself on his blog. My only fair answer at the time was that it was … odd, but that I wanted to keep reading. The beginning, in my opinion, is somewhat jarring and disjointed. I felt thrust around, not really given a chance to orient myself with the characters, and how they were connected. In my opinion, there was something missing, though I still can’t identify what. As the book progresses past that point, however, and the characters converge, that jangling sense of disharmony dissipates and the story comes together in a beautiful, terrifying way and barrels through to its chilling end.

Wendig’s panoply of characters rings true to their stories, and histories, even if they become overwhelming and obnoxious at times. This is one of those casts of characters that is both unforgettable, and sometimes difficult to spend to spend time with. Wendig works a bit of magic, though, making you care about the most abrasive personalities even though you’d gladly reach into the story and slap them silly (I’m lookin’ at you, Rachael).

The punchy style and staccato rythym has been a matter of contention in some of his books. At times, I felt like I needed a break to catch my breath, but that sensation served the story. Wendig used the style to great effect and I’d argue that it was necessary to create the pace and physical effect on the reader that this novel achieves.

Zer0es is a chilling book because of the sheer plausibility of the technological horrors Wendig concocts.  We could be living with a similar, undetected tumor of dystopic existence growing in our midst. Our own Typhon might be watching now…

Definitely worth the read, I’d give Zer0es my standard “Lord of the Rings disclaimer” – get through the beginning, and you’ll be sucked in. Now, it’s all over until the release of the second book in the series, Invasive, in August.

 

Medium: Kindle version from Amazon.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: When I feel the need to be reminded of technology’s dark side, yes.

Dead-tree worthy?: Maybe. I think I’ll need to read through it again to figure that out. There is a certain amount of irony of only owning a digital copy, though.

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