Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Girl Who Was Evangeline excerpt

Dearest Readers,

The long procrastinated excerpt is now available. I'm still revising the first draft, so I reserve the right to make 47,000 changes to this excerpt, in perpetuity, until I get it right...




Dear Simon,

I have become a mercenary. 

We both knew it would come to this in the end. I perform the dirty jobs that no one else wants to or can do, restoring balance to the natural world where it is needed. Refusing the money would be far nobler (and I did try in the beginning) but nobility doesn't pay the bills. Nobility doesn't allow me the freedom to do what needs to be done. I can no longer stomach the claustrophobic prison of my old job, the prison that was not so slowly eating away at my insides. This is what I do now. This is what I was always meant to do, and I'm happier for it. I’ll continue to operate my proxy playing-field-leveling business on a sliding scale fee system, provided I can ever get this backlog of mercenary work laid to rest, because that job is who I truly am.

I don’t know if you ever want to see me again, though I’m guessing you do not. I tried to tell you that we were never going to work, no matter how much wishful thinking we put in, but you would never listen.

I want to forget…

Please move forward…

I release…

I pulled myself out of writing and stared at the last sentence on the page, trying to decide how to finish that thought, understanding the devastation it would cause me. Should I release Simon, I will never repeat this process ever again. I cannot allow myself to put anyone within the blast radius that I willfully put Simon and Jack in. Because people never really change. Deep down I have always been the person I am now.  I just never wanted to accept it.  No, people don't change.  They adapt and they evolve.  And that's what I've done.  I've crawled out from the desk I was hiding underneath, swept off the cobwebs, shook off the rust, and finally permitted the person I was meant to be to shine through.  

So it was with finality that I added the final word to the sentence, you, and then folded the letter up and shoved it into my pocket.

My hand trembled slightly around the letter inside the pocket. Funny how having things written down makes them feel more real.

Take my to-do list for example. Just having the list of tasks that need done, and the order in which they’re to be done, helps ease the burden of having to do tasks that are increasingly unpleasant.

The mask that I’ve always worn, the one I wore to be alone, to scare the amiable away—that mask must become my true face. The cost for failing to do what I know I must do is far too high.  There is no coming back from this.

Or something like that.

What’s next on my list anyway?

Find new transportation, the list answers back.

A darkly silent chortle rose from within me at the thought of my last rental vehicle dying a sudden and violent death during my last mercenary job. But I remembered that because of the whole linear decision, the transportation wasn't necessary anyway. I was going to need a cab to catch a train and then a plane. So I crossed the transportation item off the list, and it felt surprisingly pleasing to accomplish something right after I’d woken up.

The next stop was an island—Christmas Island. And from where I was, I’d need to head to Kuala Lampur rather quickly to catch the last flight of the day there.

The travel website promises an isolated and extremely dense rain forest.

I hate rain forests.

Christmas island, as it turns out, is nearly a desert isle—and from all appearances, a colossal waste of my time. My contact never showed, never returned my calls or emails. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, but this is the first time this has happened on one of these jobs. Most people are so desperate for my help that they’re only too eager, ambushing me at the airport or hotel in the eagerness to be free.

I wandered around looking for some sign of the supernatural—but found none.

I surely must’ve walked every inch of that goddamn jungle. Why is so much of the earth covered in jungle? I was positively devoured by mosquitoes, who are apparently not quite so picky as vampires about the quality of blood that they drink. They even completely ignored the stupid eco-friendly insect repellent I got guilt-tripped into buying, or quite possibly, they were even attracted by it.

Much like that Portlandia deodorant commercial, the makers of this product took out all of the bad stuff, you know, the stuff that actually works, and left in all of the healthy natural ingredients that do absolutely nothing.

I saw enormous, spider-like black crabs climbing up palm trees. I saw hundreds of thousands of what I guessed were red crabs scurrying across the sandy beaches, and I imagined a macabre wave of crimson shadowing the crystal-clear wave of blue. The sheer number of birds flying overhead was something out of bad horror movie, their masses at times threatening to eclipse the sun. (Fine with me.)

But I saw no demons. No suspicious persons lurking about. In fact, I was by far the most sinister-looking person on the entire island.

All I did get from the excursion was a sinking feeling of being watched.

And quite possibly malaria.

Not until I was showering in my rented room in coastal Malaysia did I realize how badly the mosquitoes on the island had truly gotten me. In addition to the smaller, normal size bites, I had swollen, saucer size bruises on my sides beneath my shirt. This was obviously the work of exotic insects more venomous than mosquitoes, but what?

I fired off an increasingly welted and angry email to the Christmas Island deadbeat, ending with a clear message: You’re on your own, pal, so suck it.

My list said a small town in India was next. Only three stops left before I reached Europe, which, if 9th grade geography serves me right, means the end of jungles...
Six destinations now remain on my to-do list. To some this may sound like progress, but I can assure you it is not. Much like any other job, the second you complete one task, three new ones sprout up.

The ding of a new email caused me to turn from pondering the ever shrinking and then growing to-do list to my newly purchased tablet.

An email from Gavin appeared in my inbox, and it was marked urgent.

Vangie,

Simon is not well. He refuses to email you himself. The transfusions don’t seem to be working anymore. He can’t keep any food down… 

What do we do?

Gavin


A sudden splash of icy terror jolted my heart from its coma. Like I said, solve one problem and a new one—a worse one—always springs up in its place.

I read and reread the email. Again and again and again. It sounded strange. Vague. Not at all like Gavin.

Could be he’s upset?

Or maybe Nicky wrote it for him?

Or…?

I hurriedly shoved my remaining things into my pack and ran outside to hail a cab.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Art of Failing Fabulously

So NaNoWriMo wasn't exactly a smashing success.  I got about half of what I'd hoped to get accomplished.  Two years into this self-publishing experiment, and I'm still not quite sure if I'm doing well or not.  All the blog statistics say that if I sell more than just a handful of copies I'm doing better than 90% of self-pubbers, but I'm not sure that's actually something to brag about.  

So what have I learned/accomplished?  

  • The negative reviews sting quite a bit less than they did in the beginning.  Recently I've found that I can even have a (gasp) sense of humor about them. 
  • I cannot write books and blog about them at the same time.  I have absolutely fallen flat on my face in the multitasking department in recent months (including the time I failed to correctly comprehend  and interpret instructions for a 2nd grade book report), and must conclude that I am absolutely at the end of my multitasking tether. 
  • Perfection is overrated.  Like a lot of women, I try really try hard to do the best job that I can at every single thing that I do, no matter the consequences to my health or sanity.  I'm not sure why I have such a hard time admitting when I'm in over my head or even failing in certain areas.  We all want to look like we're handling it all easily and graciously, but you know what?  The people that I see who are perfect (or are pretending to be perfect) don't seem to be having a whole lot of fun.  And I refuse to pretend to be one of them anymore.  Being imperfect is messy, frustrating, exasperating, but it's also honest, real, and means you're actually living.
  • I've learned more from failure than I would have from success.  Let's face it, had my first novel been picked up by a publisher right away, I'd be living in a posh area of London right now without a care in the world.  Would I still be trying to improve my writing?  Would I still be doing my damndest to self-actualize and grow stronger as a person?  Would I still be worried about elevating self-publishing and helping out others like me? (Wait, what was my point again?  I got lost in a daydream about London...)
  • If you're going to fail, do it with style.  Own it.  Live it.  Tell everyone you can about it.  Don't be afraid to tell them you flipped ass over tea kettle down an entire mountainside trying to snowboard, or inhaled five gallons of water learning to scuba dive.  Aside from having a great story to tell, you'll spread your courage to the people you touch.  Failing fabulously is a least twice as impressive as any easily won success.
Last but not least, I owe everyone an apology for not having my excerpt for the next book published on time (or at all).  I simply cannot decide which part to use as the best representation of the book.  I don't want to choose a section that contains spoilers or gives to much away, so I've been hoarding the poor thing like a miser.  The beginning of the book was the section I picked for Ever Evangeline, but The Girl Who Was Evangeline takes off even more quickly than the last, and I'm just afraid it will ruin the surprises in store.   I promise I haven't forgotten, and I will have it posted as soon as I can let go of the need for it to be perfect I'm also working my arse off to get the book done... and failing fabulously as I go.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

NaNoWriMo is... Totally Kicking My Ass

I sit here typing with... a bloody Kleenex hanging from my nose.  My breathing is labored.  My appearance, haggard.  First, NaNoWriMo, that sly devil, wore me down with sleep deprivation and sensory overload, before sucker punching me in the gut.  Then, while I was dazed, the brute laid me out with one swift upper cut.  Worse still, when the crowds had cleared and no one was looking, NaNoWriMo totally kept kicking me and calling me names while I was on the ground.  

The above is only a metaphor of course for the labor intensive authorial month of November that I've undertaken that is NaNoWriMo.  I may actually complete the stupid goal.  It seems I do indeed have what it takes to finish a novel in a month. I do not, apparently, have what it takes to write 50K words in one month AND blog about the misery of it.   And, more importantly, I do not have what it takes to be a person anyone would want to know whilst writing myself into an early grave.  I have developed some subtle personal tics and idiosyncrasies.  I talk to myself even more than I even did before.  The ideas and imaginary conversations never, ever stop now.  My brain has been pushed too far and is now stuck in overdrive.  And every time since November 1st that I sat down to try and blog about it, the PTSD would kick in, and with my mind racing in 20,000 different directions, I just couldn't seem to arrange the letters in the right order to make them say words.  All I could do was weep silently at the keyboard, while the voices continued, my right eye twitching as I jotted down notes in 20 different notebooks on 20 different novels.

As ever with my cruel experiments, I have no one but myself to blame.  It always starts so innocently.  I get an idea stuck in my head and I just can't rest until I turn it into action.  Pursue your dreams, isn't that the sadistic advice so often given?  Exacerbating matters is that I always stumble across some clever Thomas Edison or Benjamin Franklin or Teddy Roosevelt quote about persevering, success being disguised as hard work or some such thing that speaks to me in some way.  Then I think - all inspired to follow in the footsteps of greatness and everything - If they can do it, then so can I.  

But then I remember that those men were legitimate bad-asses, geniuses born ahead of their time, blessed with extraordinary talent and greatness, and that I... am not.  The old timey dudes totally incepted me into thinking I could do anything I set out to do, that with just a little hard work, I, too, could realize my dreams. To quote KidPresident, Not cool Thomas Edison. Not cool.  I"m just a regular gal, a regular gal with a mountain of responsibilities and loads of other crap to do.  But a regular gal who, by overreaching and seriously overextending her sanity, may just accomplish what she set out to do.  I may just finish 50K words on one novel and about 25K on another. 

But it ain't gonna be pretty.

More to follow on The Girl Who Was Evangeline excerpt...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

NaNoWriMo

As an experiment in self-torture, I'm forcing myself to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.  Oh, I have all the usual sorts of excuses for not wanting to do it.  My carpel tunnel is flaring up.  I'm too fussy/lazy/whiny/tired.  Turning off my brain and watching TV is easier.  People in my house do expect me to cook them dinner eventually.

But to all of these lame excuses and more, I say, Ha! 

I can do this. 

No, wait... I can't do this!!!

But, wait... I will do this!!  After all, I discovered Woodkid!

And I've decided that the only way I can keep myself from cheating via telling everyone I completed an entire novel in a month even though I only wrote a measly 1,500 words is... I'm going to compose a (very brief) post of my thoughts and feelings and insanity each and every day.  In other words, I'm going to pass the torture on to you! 

So brace yourselves, November 1st is fast approaching...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Girl Who Was Evangeline excerpt coming by October 31st!

While I admit not having the best track record with my self-imposed deadlines, I see no problem in giving you guys a taste of Evangeline's final chapter by Halloween.  The ideas and word count are flowing nicely since my brief hiatus, and I CANNOT WAIT to finish bringing Evangeline's story to life!  I've grown addicted to being an interloper in her world and I don't know how I'm going to give up indulging my own Evangeline-ness.  (Or do I?  Hint, I'm going to have to write myself a new heroine to fill that empty space in my heart.)

During the summer I fulfilled only about a third of my personal goals.  I'm not fluent in French, nor can I play the guitar (balling up fist in my modified anger Tebow).  Only finished half of my SCUBA requirements, with the open water requirements left to complete, which did mean missing out on diving while in the Caribbean.  (Upon reflection, sticking to one goal at a time seems almost a too obvious remedy, but I do like the kamikaze blitz approach to accomplishment.)  I did, however, finish my reading, and I nerdily recommend The Brothers Karamazov with absolute conviction to those who, like me, prefer their reads be a bit on the tortured and introspective side.   I just started Anna Karenina this morning, and I'm happy to report being under its rather hypnotic spell already.  I will later label this phase of my life as The Addiction to Bleak Russian Tales of Woe period. 

At the moment I'm still on the hunt for new music to get excited about.  I was intrigued by a description of Woodkid on another author (Susan Dennard's) blog, and I'm going to give it a whirl.  She also reminded me about Justice, who notably inspired Muse's 2nd Law, and I vowed to check them out until I forgot after perhaps, just a tad, maybe ever-so-slightly overanalyzing the latest by my favorite band.   But I've got a bit of distance behind me now, haven't I?  I must be careful, though, as both are French and I may just be unwittingly thrown into a new mania, of The Haunted French Techno-Hipster period variety.

Update: LOVE LOVE LOVE Waters of Nazareth by Justice and am ordering the entire 'cross' album.  If that song doesn't throw you into high-speed motivational nirvana you might just need to check your pulse.  I like a few of the Woodkid songs (Run Boy Run & Iron) & will give them more in depth listens on the old iPod, but I can already tell it will be one of those things I say I like more than I actually do.  Please remind me later if I say I it's "my thing" or that I "discovered Woodkid" that I'm an insufferable music snob idiot.  Peace out.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lost in Translation

My husband and I just returned from a week in the Yucatan peninsula celebrating our anniversary.  Like so many others, we have learned to do without many luxury items like family vacations or cars with less than 200K miles or napkins over the years.  But this year was a milestone anniversary, and dinner and a show just weren't going to cut it.  I wanted adventure, and adventure we got.

We swam in underground caves and sinkholes.  We swung from ropes into crystal clear turquoise water.  Jumped off cliffs.  Rode bicycles through the Mayan jungle.   Climbed a 130 foot pyramid.  

The people we encountered there were fantastic.  The food was amazing - hands down the best shrimp ceviche to be found anywhere.  But there was something else, too.   Our reputation preceded us wherever we went, and I found out some things about my native country I had not known previously.

Fact #1:
Americans like tequila.  Like, a lot, and they apparently drink it all day every day.  If an American is quiet it's because he/she is ill from consuming too much tequila.  (There are no other known medical causes of quietness in Americans.)

Fact #2:
Americans love shouting, "Whoop! Whoop!"  And they never get tired of hearing it or being ordered to shout it.

Fact #3:
All Americans are adrenaline junkies, and none of them, no matter how old and regardless of swimming ability, will mind driving 80 kph in a speedboat whilst the drivers exhaust every possible means of capsizing said speedboat.  The fact that all of the passengers purchased tickets to go "snorkeling" is of no importance.

Facts #4:
Americans do not travel abroad to learn about other cultures.  Rather than seeing local entertainment, they prefer to see "shows" rehashing American popular music and movies that involve Saturday morning kung fu-style lip-synching and dance choreography.

Fact #5:
American women are not offended by (and actually prefer) being called "princess" or "Barbie."

Fact #6:
All Americans fit into to two types: college students and Jimmie Buffet wannabes.  Even if you don't see yourself as one of those, you are obviously mistaken because Americans simply do not come in any other flavors.  

Having one's own culture chewed up and spit back in one's face is a unique experience, embarrassing and enlightening at once.  I haven't done much traveling out of the U.S. and am now immensely curious to see how other countries interpret our culture.  Will it be the same everywhere, or in Brazil will I discover that my fellow Americans eat bologna in bed for breakfast each day without my knowledge?  In Belgium will I find out that I'm supposed to be working out 14 hours each day or demanding mini gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake tortes for dessert? 

The possibilities are endless.

The lost in translation thing got me thinking about how we do that to other countries right here.   I'm thinking of the Mexican restaurants with the sombrero and poncho décor, and the patrons from Mexico who probably think, Really?  With the sombreros and ponchos that I've never worn a day in my life? Again? 

I'd like to say something profound about not lumping people into groups, judging each person as an individual, not letting each voice become lost in translation, but I just got back from vacation, and I'm easing out my "world traveler" mindset and back into my lazy American persona.  So I just ain't got time for that.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Note to Self, Learn How to Throw a Temper Tantrum

I have yet to hear an actual, ordinary person say they were driven insane by restless, unfocused, maddeningly torturous creative energy.  An incessant need to create, striving for artistic masterpieces yet leaning more toward hopelessly bourgeois macaroni encrusted toilet seat covers.    Where are all the other lunatics who are driven to toil away on crappy "paintings", mosaic their otherwise perfectly fine fireplaces, or carefully select each and every stupid article of clothing like they are laboring over a piece of art?

Show yourselves people.  I know you're out there, hiding behind your larger than life homemade macramé homages to the expressionistic movement and hoping no one will see what you've done. It is just not possible that I am the only one who has way too much unnecessary creative energy and nowhere to put it all - and no way to tame it.

Nobody?

Sniff.  K.  Stiff upper lip trembling

I see three possible solutions to this dilemma.

1.  Throw a temper tantrum 

Let's see I should start, maybe, uh, blubbering?  Pouting?  Or.... kicking...  and.... screaming... ? 

Oh my God.  I can't even pretend to have a believable tantrum, can I?  Just once - once - I'd like to throw myself on the ground and enjoy a good-old fashioned temper tantrum.  I've never had one.  If my mom can believed I never even threw one as a kid.  I read in Vogue that Penelope Cruz does it all the time.  She's just so damned dramatic/crazy/beautiful/exciting/exotic/whatever that when she does it, her every wish is immediately granted and designer gowns and ponies start dropping from the sky.  Plus she's BFF's with Bono, rock star/wizard, so that must help.  Her mother, instead of throwing her in a dungeon or subjecting her to a face-melting glare, would only laugh and say, Oh, PenelopeEven your temper tantrums are too adorable to resist.  I promise we'll take you shopping on Mars like you want, just as soon as we figure out how.    (I can say with absolute certainty that's not what my mother would've said.)  The rest of peasants, so hopelessly bland, boring, and Bono-less, can't get away with that crap.  We have no recourse to get what we want other than... toil.

But I'm sick of it.  Toil would be one thing if there was an end in sight to it, but what if I'm just on an enormous treadmill to nowhere?  And the treadmill's shortcircuited, stuck on high speed, incline level 10? 

So temper tantrums must be how the societal elite achieve those otherwise impossible dreams.  I'm throwing myself onto the ground and trying out this tantrum thing right now. 

Everyone's asleep and/or playing Minecraft, I remind myself down here on the wood laminate, no kids or husbands are going to pop out and ask if I'm taking another 25-minute 'break' during my ab workout.  It's sad down here on the floor, but sort of beautiful at the same time.  The only problem is that I feel no magic at all.  A dust bunny under the dresser stares back at me, shaking its head.  No designer gowns.  No ponies.  No Bono popping out like a genie from a lamp.   (Okay, so I don't want designer gowns or ponies or Bono's, but a simpler way of life might be a nice change of pace.)  I try flailing my arms and legs a bit, but we all know that my heart just isn't in it.  And I guess, now that I think of it, the point of this whole exercise is kind of lost without an audience.  Sigh.  Might as well go ahead and embrace my own BFF, toil, and finish up those long-neglected reverse crunches while I'm down here.

2.  ???  I dunno.  Something about life?  Or something about death, or the death of one's dreams?  Whatever.  My.  Hip.

3.  This Is Where I Bring It Full Circle and Make Some Semi-Thoughtful Chestnut of Semi-Helpful Something-or-Other

But the only word floating through my head right now is toil.  It's one of the major commonalities Evangeline and I both share.  It's all she and I really know how to do.  I started out loving writing as a kid, but somewhere in either high school or college it became a chore.  Yes, the ability to write mostly coherent sentences saved my butt on countless occasions in school, but I found no joy in it at those times.  And because I come from a very humble, very practical & hard-working middle class family, I never for one second believed I'd ever be able to earn a living doing anything remotely artistic.  And so the creative impulses stayed craftily hidden until I just couldn't hold them back anymore.

Re-teaching myself creative writing as an actual adult has been quite toil intensive, and so this summer, in between books, I'm taking a brief respite to focus on other creative endeavors.  Currently, I'm reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.  (Pasternak & Dostoyevsky are next, dammit.)  It's not an easy read, & more than once I've fought a quiet jealousy that he knew from such a young age what he wanted to do, but I love it just the same.  It's brash and elegant and raw and insightful and irritating and vulgar, a spectacular combination.  The family and I are all also learning French this summer.  How's it going, did you ask?  Com si com sa.  (And yes, that is all I can remember at the moment.)  And the guitar.  That blasted guitar.  I'm getting it out, dusting it off, and teaching myself how to play a rockn'rolla rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb, or maybe even Greensleeves, by summer's end.  Too much work?  Don't think I've got the guts?  Well, you know what they say in France:. 

Cherchez la femme.