Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Tattoo!

So here's the final reveal (although I still have another session) of the tattoo I've been working on all Spring!!

It's also a sneak peak at the session from my author photo shoot session! More to come, all taken by the lovely Meagan McLendon!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Author Photo!!!

Heather's First Author Photo:
So, today I got to fulfill a childhood dream: getting an author photo taken. Seriously, ever since 2nd grade when we made little cardboard-bound books for stories we'd written and pasted a school photo at the back (see left), I've been completely enamored with the idea of author photos. I picked out the outfit I would wear TWO YEARS AGO. Before I even had an agent! Seriously, I have thought out what angles work and how I could best show off my tattoos and funky hair and what sitting positions, and yeah, writers are neurotic, and here was another outlet for my neurosis to manifest!!!

And today was the day. I did my own make-up and hair, picked out the perfect jewelry, met up with the photographer I'd contacted through a mutual art-y friend. The weather was perfect, I felt at ease and natural, and basically all around had a blast. I can't wait to see the results. You bet your buns I'll post the best ones here so ya'll can help me decide which one is the best!!!!

Also of note: That's my original hair color, and it's probably the only time you'll ever see it!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Love, Libraries, and Disability

There's been a lot of wicked stress in my life lately (though now slowing down), and one person who makes it all bearable: my husband. We've been married almost ten years, some of them rougher than others. We were kids when we got married (I was 19). We'd barely lived in the world out on our own before we were out on our own together. Together. It's a simple enough concept. Two as one, an infused pair, even as different as we are in our interests and temperaments. We went on a date this past Thursday at our favorite little diner where they serve un-ending coffee. Then we went and window-shopped for new wedding rings we'll get for our ten-year-anniversary in December. The ones we have now are 1) yellow gold, which I'm not a fan of and 2) Dragos' is literally going to have to be CUT OFF it's so small. I'm getting two small silver bands, one with a small emerald, and Dragos is getting a simple band, white gold. God, I love this man.

Also big on my Awesome List: The Texas State Alkek University library. I've lived in this area all my life--I grew up in the same county and my brothers went to this university. A few times growing up I walked up the many stairs to the imposing structure, seven stories tall and full of BOOKS! I was in awe of it. It's nestled in among the hills of the campus. Lately all the stairs had become a problem for me because of my chronic illness, which leads me to my last Awesome List Item. I've had CFS for nine years now, but for the first time actually got a disability placard so I can park closer to buildings and save energy.

I don't know WHY I DIDN'T DO THIS SOONER! Suddenly, I can GO to the library again, because I can park right at the back where the elevators are. I don't half to walk the half-block to my favorite coffee shop, stopping three times along the way to rest. I can take limited trips to the grocery store. For such a little thing, it has made such a BIG difference. Good things happening in my life lately. Good things. Good things, my friends.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A River Runs Through

So, I happen to live right by this college town (where I go to college) that has this great river running through it. Not just running through it--it freaking springs up OUT OF THE GROUND right where the college was built - you can take these glass bottom boat tours over the springs and see the freaking river water springing up from underground aquifers. It's bananas.

Anyway, there is this river, and I have lived near it my entire life. And in the past I maybe tubed down it once. ONCE. But in the past two weeks, it's like there's an invisible magnet pulling me to the river. Well, really it started in winter. Then, I used to go, take a camping chair and sit by the river, totally desolate of humans, watching the mists swirl over the water b/c the air was colder than the river water that stays a fairly even 70 degrees no matter what time of year. But then the last two weeks I've actually gotten IN to the river. And suddenly it's like freaking crack to me. I can't stay away.

My six year old and I went today, just to walk around the river-side. We weren't wearing swimming trunks. I didn't have any towels. But as we dangled our feet into the river, I suddenly found it not enough and jumped all the way in, regular clothes and all. Then tried to coax my not-as-adventurous son to come in with me!!

I finally got him in a little, standing on these huge roots of trees that dive down into the river. It's mostly shallow there, my feet could touch and I could walk up right. There's just this delirious weightlessness to wading in water up to your neck. For a person like me who has a chronic illness, where my body feels doubly-heavy so much of the time--suddenly all that weight is lifted. I can float freely on my back in the sunshine, bob gently with my feet touching, all without much effort so I don't get easily tired out like normal. You just can't imagine how ALIVE it makes me feel. How normal. Every day now I find myself constantly thinking--hmm, how can I make it to the river today?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pretty Rings!!!

The new James Avery catalog (they specialize in quality silver jewelry) came in the mail today and I am lusting after this especially lovely ring!! It's more 3-D and cool looking in person - the flowers explode off the band!

The husband and I were also looking at the wedding rings in the catalog too. Yes, yes, we already have wedding rings, but it's our TEN year anniversary this December, and my husband's ring now cuts off all circulation to his finger :) Also, both our rings are yellow gold, which I don't like anymore. I much favor silver or white gold. For the hubster I think we'll do a simple small band that is thin enough so it doesn't bother him, and for me, a thin silver band and then this for a second band (equivalent of the engagement ring), this one:

Pretty, pretty, pretty. Of course we'll wait for awhile closer to the anniversary, because I have the patience of a gnat and I would want to wear them right away! But maybe the flower ring later this summer :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Things This Week Has Taught Me

The last two weeks has been about paring down responsibilities to avoid Heather Overload/Spontaneous Combustion. I would love to be that person who always has a deadline and is just always ON. What I've realized this week, well, this whole semester really, is that I only get excited (and therefore productive) about things I'm passionate about. Creative writing, for instance. Deadlines don't stress me out--a huge amount of work that might need to go into revisions, really digging in--this causes me ZERO stress and ALL excitement. So, to recap this week (with a helpful scale of Awesome Vs. Not Awesome):

  • Reading about interesting ideas (aka academic research)= Awesome, life affirming

  • Being forced to synthesize those ideas into specific narrow thoughts and write a half-ass paper in a week = NOT Awesome

  • Panic attacks = Not Awesome

  • Dropping a class and cancelling academic conference paper presentation = AWESOME

  • Attending aforementioned class on an Auditing basis just to talk about ideas with no stress= Awesome

  • Tattoos = AWESOME

  • Oh, and Tax Returns = Awesome

Conclusion: I love ideas. I love creative writing and art. I do not love academic writing, and when I go back to it for my thesis slowly over the next year, I'll do it on my terms, slowly, letting the passion for ideas manifest without hard deadlines. Also awesome this week: husbands, cute 6-yr-olds, and the internet (especially all you Apocalypsies!).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Vespertine - A Decadent Read

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell - Summary from Goodreads - It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him. When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.
- My Review -
This book was so thick with longing, so achingly decadent in every sense of the word. The writing was lush--written in first person, the novel simultaneously manages to carry a strong and relatable voice and an inescapable sense of the time and era it was written about. You truly believe you're hearing the voice of a seventeen year old girl from 1889. Amelia's naive delight at visiting her relative Zora for a summer season--the only one either of them is likely to have--is easy to get swept up in as a reader. Yet the novel is framed by a sense of tragedy (this isn't a spoiler, it's clear from the first chapter), and it infects and hovers behind all of the gaiety of the girls' dances and laughter and frivolity. The growth that Amelia goes through in the novel is heart-wrenching but unflinchingly honest. And then there is the love story. The unconsummated longing between Amelia and Nathaniel is so delicious. In a time where touching bare hands was considered wanton and dangerous, every intimate look and moment they steal alone has a heightened sense or eroticism (even though all of their contact by today's standard is chaste). But the Victorian setting and forbidden nature of their longing for one another, with added tension because of the supernatural elements of the book, makes for the most exciting love story I've read in a long time. Five stars, which I rarely give.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Function of Fantasy According to Tolkien

So, in my Real Life (aka, apart book deal excitement and craziness!), I'm trying to finish my Master's degree in Literature. And I'm presenting at an academic conference in two weeks for an abstract I sent in and was accepted in December... for a paper I haven't exactly written yet... or, as of two days ago... started!!! (I'm not a giant-slacker, this is actually common, well maybe not waiting this long, but still!)

This has been remedied in a frantic last two days of researching, and really, this paper is just a small chunk of what will be in my thesis--I've thought out the theory and thesis statement and all those lovely things. I've been a giant stress-ball lately, so it was a nice surprise when I was able to chill out, read theory all weekend, and get excited about research again.

Because, the thing is, I'm writing about YA fantasy literature for my thesis. How cool is that? Reading up on theories of how fantasy functions is actually AWESOME. The paper I'm presenting is on C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian, so I got to read these lovely essays by him and Tolkien on what they thought fantasy literature actually DOES, you know, insight into why we love it and how it satisfies us. Now, I don't completely agree with Tolkien. As a good post-modernist, I can't quite. But oh I do find myself resonating with the longing he speaks of:

"The consolation of fairy-stories [i.e. fantasy], the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-story can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist,' nor 'fugitive.' In it's fairy-tale--or otherworld--setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief" (Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories").

Lewis' Prince Caspian is full of this longing--nostalgia for the Old Narnia that has been lost and become ruin. All the pages are filled at the beginning are filled with loss and ruin and brokenness and forgotten glory. Then enter the hero. Then enter the wild of the awakening Old World. I can't deny the power of this storyline. I guess I'm still moved by redemption and regeneration stories after all.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thoughts about the Jane Eyre movie

Most anyone who knows me knows my abiding love of Jane Eyre. I didn't read it until I was an adult and it was one of those oh-my-gosh-how-is-this-book-from-the-nineteenth-century-so-engrossing-I-can't-put-it-down moments. After I read it I watched every single film adaptation of it ever, from the old black and white version to the really bad 80's mini-series version to the more recent awesome 2006 BBC adaptation. Then I heard they were making an actual feature film of it starring Mia Wasikowska. Awesome! Another romp through one of my favorite stories, another Rochester to fall in love with and a new Jane to admire!!

My gift to myself this week was taking a day off from school and stress and going to watch it since it FINALLY came to a theatre close by. And it was everything I hoped it would be... almost. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. I loved the passionate build up b/w Jane and Rochester, loved how they smoothed over some problematic story elements and used flash-backs to give the story more continuity, and I think Wasikowska has officially overtaken 2006 BBC's version of Jane as my favorite. But Rochester was... well, old. Not old, old--he was still strapping enough if not conventionally handsome and he had swoon-worthy hair and build, but in the first scene where they meet in Hay Lane, he just looked so much older than Jane. And then I started thinking about how really he is almost twice her age in the book too. There's this moment where Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax is talking to Jane and she expresses her concern that Jane is so young and simply hasn't seen much of the world, much less known anything of men... and I kind of agreed with her. I loved this Jane, Wasikowska brought so much life and passion to her, but in the end, for the first time ever in my love-affair with this story, I was left wondering: maybe Jane could have done better? I mean, Rochester gets the awesome end of this deal--super young and awesome Jane who still loves him in spite of, well, EVERYTHING. But what about Jane? What about her unsatiated wanderlust, her wild imagination, her untamed spirit? She's attached herself so young to a much older man, a bit infirm by the end, doomed to having babies and house-keeping and such.

I think thinking so much about representations of young women in fiction, especially YA fiction, has brought me to this bend in the road. I can't read romance novels with the same abandon as I used to. Even the passion of this Rochester (and there was passion, believe you me. He's actually my second-favorite Rochester yet--2006 BBC's Toby Stephens is still my fav-- and the chemistry between the two was palpable and super sexy-constrained) couldn't quite move my suspension of disbelief, or rather, my concerns about women's roles and their depictions in fiction. I came out wishing Rochester didn't have quite so much baggage, that he was about eight years younger, and that they could have gone tromping the world together at the end.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Elements of an Edit - Picture Post

So, I looked at the calender today, thinking for sure it had been 3+ weeks since I'd gotten my edit letter. Yeah, or not. It's been a little less than 2 weeks, but I turned in my edits today, and they felt pretty massive. At least to me. We'll see what my actual editor thinks :) In the meantime, here's a picture post of the elements involved in Heather's Vortex Hermit Cave of Edits where I've been living the past couple weeks.

First of all, there is the Edit Cave :

Note: multiple coffee cups on the shelf, as well as wine bottle and glass. Both are important ingredients in the Hermit Cave. Mini-speakers on the couch arm (blasting mainly Florence + The Machine and Mumford & Sons). Also important: comfy couch space, pillows and blankets that nestle the aforementioned Heather Hermit into the couch space. And yeah, random stacks of laundry and books scattered around. This is my life.

Next item of importance: midway through edits, printed out manuscript, with more chicken scratch:

And last but not least--the beacon guiding in the dark: THE EDIT LETTER, in all it's 18-page gloriousness, marked up, highlighted, and each item crossed off one by one as I work through Amazing Editor's thoughts and suggestions for manuscript.

And then there is the Heather Hermit in the Aftermath. That's right, I am sleeeeeeeeeeeeepy. But wait, what? Grad school needs my attention? Bahhhhhhh!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mixing Action & Emotive Character Arcs

Phew, second personal pass through edits complete (well, on paper, I still need to make changes on computer, but still, DONE)!!!! I’ve done all the big work at this point: mainly a lot of smoothing out of story-arcs, combining multiple conversations into single more cinematic ones, amping up tension EVERYWHERE, and at the end, making sure to pack emotional punch in among the action. Basically that’s been the big wrestle with this edit round—making sure the action & emotional arcs are both smooth in and of themselves, but then are also woven together seamlessly. That’s what makes for a great story. How many of us have seen spectacular action flicks with great special effects, but thought: bummer, for all the flash and bang, there just wasn’t a compelling story at the heart of it—or—I didn’t really connect to those characters. This is the crux of every story that has been a staple in my life. A few examples:

  • Original Star Wars. Luke’s journey of maturing through the three films, as well as Darth Vader’s redemption, not to mention Hans Solo's extremely likable persona—in spite of the space-fighting-kick-assing action, it’s the characters that make this story timeless.

  • The Terminator, especially Terminator 2—this was a 90’s action flick at it’s explosion-y best, coupled w/ cool sci-fi of the mercury-like enemy terminator—but all of it is based in the emotional journey of a family and the machine sent to protect them, leaving viewers pondering well after the movie has finished if the Terminator’s loyalty was all his programming, or if sentience in machines could mean becoming more human than was ever intended. Not to mention the lingering discomfort about the future of the human race and the worry about computers taking over the world that seeped into the consciousness of my generation!

  • Jurassic Park—one of the landmark films of my childhood. The more I think about the places I went with Glitch, of nature to react against the bindings of attempted human control, I can trace thought processes back to this book/movie. In Jurassic Park, man thinks he can control nature by cloning, reproducing, and packaging ancient wild beasts. And instead, they begin adapting in unforeseen ways. I mean, think about what this film highlights—there are actual amphibians that can CHANGE THIER BIOLOGICAL SEX when forced into a same sex environment in order to procreate and continue their race. It’s f’ing nuts, completely wild, untamable, just like human nature. Societal rules and many religions attempt to control us, to mold us into singular, controllable, patterned entities. Any attempt at control that does not acknowledge the chaos of what it means to be alive, however, is doomed to fail. Ok, excited soap-box ranting over :) Yeah, anyway, this and other awesome scientific ideas were interspersed with very human main characters, navigating the dangerous and thrilling consequences of human tampering with things too large for them to control. Not to mention, the special effects were unlike anything we’d seen in 1993 when it came out!!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Edit Land: Chasing Wildly After Beauty

I've been deep in edits the last week and a half, and--full disclosure--I've been a little bit in Crazy Land too. You all know what I mean by Crazy Land, right? Full of neurosis, stultifying fears, freezing paralysis?

Yeah. I spent a few days there last week. I've edited novels before. I edited the last two Shelved Books, went deep into Edit Land, just like I did this time....but this time was different. I mean, a Real Book is going to come of this. Real Book. On shelves. In stranger's hands, packaged and pretty and out in the universe. So maybe that's why this feels very different, or maybe it's because I've been stretching myself too thin lately. Grad School + Mom-dom + Writing. I've only ever been able to manage two of these at once, but this week, I've been attempting all three, and I found out very quickly that all three things put together = FAIL. Not quite Epic Fail, but certainly paralysis-on-all-endeavors kind of fail. Who knew? Actually, I knew at the start of the semester, but I didn't quite want to admit it.

Things that fixed Heather's Neurotic Semi-Breakdown: 1) handsome husband taking me out for ice cream. 2) Dropping a class I should never have signed up for in the first place. 3) Reading Natalie Goldberg to remember why I'm writing, what this business is all about at it's base.

Amazing Quote about writing from Goldberg: "We are not running wildly after beauty with fear at our backs."

Did you hear that? Because you should read it two or ten more times until that sinks in. We're all writing because we are running wildly after beauty. That's what character development is about--that's exactly the journey my main character is going through, and learning not to let fear drive her is the triumph of the story. And it's the triumph of my own story too, the part where life imitates art. At the base, I write because beauty moves me. That's what I'm trying to get across in all these pages. It's why I started to write and why I continue--because there is something so fucking startling, beautiful, and light-making about life.

Love and joy and all the bright things that create meaning. It's a tragedy if I forget that because of inane responsibilities, due dates, papers and other mundane-ness requiring my attention. The past few days have been dedicated again to that wild chase after beauty. Fear as a driving force is abandoned and exchanged for joy. What the hell else are we on this planet for?