August 22, 2014

#ALSIceBucketChallenge COMPLETE

ALS sucks. I never really knew how much until last year, when I saw a play (33 Variations at Threshold Theatre here in Charleston) that depicted a brilliant woman's struggle with - and ultimately loss to - the insidiousness of this disease.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been going on a few weeks now and I was consistently resisting dumping ice water on my head because really - in this day and age, and in times of civil and international chaos, what could be more stupid than dumping ice water on my head?

So we gave to an ALS charity after Charles and I were nominated for the challenge, but I had no intention of actually getting wet.

Then I saw this video, created by 26-year-old man who will ultimately die of ALS without drastic changes in ALS research and treatments. It broke my heart because, as I watched him care for his mother - dying from the disease - I wondered who will take care of him when his disease advances? Who will fill his feeding tube and change his oxygen tank? He could die alone, all because we haven't found a cure...

Yet.

Still...why get wet, right?

Well, in the video, this young man mentioned that every time he sees another Ice Bucket Challenge video, it lifts his spirits. It gives him hope. It lets him know we care.

And then I noticed a friend of mine whose father died several years ago from ALS. She's sharing all the videos made by her friends and family. Her brother's been diagnosed with ALS, too. She needs all the support she can get.

We gave, sure. But what was I doing to help lift my friend's spirits?

So.

I got wet.

And since Zoe wanted in on the "fun," too...so did she. And yes, I took the opportunity to explain what ALS is, what it does, and why we need to fight for the cure.

So.

Here is me, getting wet in the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.
(Don't mind Zoe's fingers in the frame. What can I say? She's an amateur filmmaker!)



And here is Zoe, getting wet in the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.


If, by adding our voices to the fight, we have helped anyone at all, then we've done our part. I hope we have.


August 20, 2014

JO: An Early Review!!!!

Well, you guys, here's the thing. Sending out a book for review is the most nerve-wracking thing a writer can do. You see, once someone agrees to review your book, it's out of your hands. The reviewer may love it; they may hate it. You may get a five-star Amazon review; you may get a one-star BLAST. You just never know.

That's why, when this early review of JO went up late last week, I almost cried with relief. It says things like this: 


"This fast paced book had me gripped - and I mean completely hooked - and I simply had to keep reading till dawn."


and this:


"Jo was a brilliantly written, compelling read."


and this:


"It's a unique read, and something I've not read before: a refreshing change and a great addition to my horror library." 


I really couldn't have dreamed of a review like this. 

So....thanks so much to Carole at Gadget Girl Reviews, and do check out her blog when you have a minute. It's a fun mix of geeky gadgets and books; I think most of y'all will love it.

And JO!! She's out in less than two weeks if you can believe that!!! I can't wait for the rest of you to see what she has in store!



August 19, 2014

Oh, Mexico....

Some of you may have noticed I was quieter than usual last week. Some of you may have been relieved that I was quieter than usual last week. Regardless, I was quiet. It's true. I left on a jet plane with Charles and Zoe and my dad and headed to the Great Internet Black Hole known as Cozumel. It's a little island off the coast of Mexico, and it was to be the location of my brother's wedding.

So yeah. It was a fun week. We left on a Wednesday, with three flights on United Air staring us in the face. Honestly, I didn't expect to make it to Mexico at all, let alone on time and with both of our checked bags in tow. Amazingly enough, though, all the stars aligned and we landed in the tiny little Cozumel airport exactly when we were supposed to. It was unreal.

We had to turn off all cellular service to our phones in order to avoid Mega Roaming Charges, and at Charles's request I'd left my computer at home (it was VACATION DARNIT, or so he pointed out a half-dozen times before we left), so we'd be relying on our hotel's wifi in order to stay connected to the world.

Which would have been fine...except apparently the hotel's router was being powered by a cucaracha on a hamster wheel, and we each only had service in a little 5x5 square in the lobby. Weird thing, though? Some of us had internet by one door; my father had internet on a particular couch. These little sweet spots of internet were often heavily populated by People With Phones, and I maybe got to check email once a day. I rarely responded. Sorry to anyone I ignored.

But it was VACATION DARNIT.

And speaking of sweet spots...here's a funny thing about our hotel room: the shower had separate hot and cold knobs. They spun in both directions. In order to turn on the shower, you had to wiggle the knob back and forth, hoping to find the sweet spot of Water Being On for both hot AND cold. This wasn't the real problem, though. The REAL problem was doing it in reverse, and finding the sweet spot to turn OFF the shower. No lie: one morning I spent about 5 minutes trying to turn off the shower. 

But, you know, it wasn't all bad. Most of it was pretty fantastic, in fact. There was a little cove of ocean in which we could snorkel, and though Zoe turned out to be surprisingly afraid of big fish, we all had a great time feeding the smaller ones with bits of stale bread. Zoe and my new step-niece (that sounds funny...in the future she can just be my niece) hit it off despite a 4 year age difference (Zoe's six, my new niece is 10), and they spent much of the week together in the pools. They also shared a love of chess (who knew??) and played with the life-size chess board almost daily. In short, they wore each other out, and by dinnertime we usually had two very tired girls on our hands.

I also got to spend time with my nephew and original niece, which was great. Except for that time my niece stepped on a bee...for the SECOND TIME IN FOUR DAYS! And I had to get the stinger out because OHMIGOSH THE PEOPLE AT THE FIRST AID STATION WERE GONNA USE TWEEZERS AND SQUEEZE ALL THAT BEE-VENOM BACK INTO HER FOOT and so that wasn't so great.

The food was less than stellar - it's the first time I've ever seen my Southern husband (think: manners) spit out food into his napkin at a dinner table. But that's what mealy shrimp will do to you.

But again! Fun! It was VACATION DARNIT!

We drove in a Jeep that had no seat belts, nor any other safety feature. I drank coconut water directly from a coconut (YUM!) and ate a mango sprinkled with paprika and shoved onto a stick so it looked like a popsicle (DOUBLE YUM!!!). We walked around town and were heckled by all the hawkers (Tip: don't wear a Batman t-shirt in a Mexican tourist spot as all the shop workers will call you Batman to try to entice you into their shops. My brother learned this the hard way.). We had a late night marine biology lesson, learning about sea cucarachas, urchins, starfish, and hermit crabs. We laughed a lot. We drank even more. I did a tequila shot on the last day, and it made me make ugly faces, but whatever, it was VACATION DARNIT!

And, most importantly, we had family time. I got to see both my brothers at the same time, got to spend a lot of time with my brand-new sister-in-law, and Zoe got to be a co-flower-girl-ring-bearer in the wedding. I did the hair of the bridal party (minus the bride, who had her hair done by a woman who put more mousse in it than I ever considered possible - no worries, though, the bride looked AMAZING), and the wedding itself was perfect. See? Even Charles's iPhone agrees.


It was an amazing time but I was glad to get home on Sunday night. Zoe started school yesterday and is off and running in the First Grade (GAH!!!) And so, for now, I'll leave you with these, my official impressions of Mexico:
  • Gorgeous beaches and water; 
  • No internet;
  • Great location for kids and weddings; and, most importantly
  • Don't eat the shrimp

August 12, 2014

Thank you, Robin Williams

Dear Mr. Williams.

No. That's not right. I don't imagine you'd ever want to be called Mr. Williams. 

Dear Robin doesn't sound right, either. Could you just be Robin? A sidekick to someone else's Batman?

No. That's not it.

Dear Mork? That's getting closer. Ork calling Mork is probably even better.

Dear Genie and Peter Pan and Mr. Keating and Adrian Cronauer and Mrs. Doubtfire and oh my God there are way too many characters to even attempt to name a fraction of them all...

No. It's not quite right. Let's go with...

Hey you. Yeah, you. The ubiquitous face from my childhood. The face who made me laugh when I wanted to cry, to cry when I wanted to laugh.

Yeah. You.

Thank you.

Thank you for bringing joy and laughter into so many of our households for so many years. Thank you for the movies that made me laugh. Thank you for Aladdin, which I used to watch while laying on my brother's water bed (Yes. Waterbed.). I can still sing all the songs.

Thank you for Good Morning Vietnam. It came out when I was very young (eight, in fact) and I remember watching it with my father and laughing, though half the time I didn't get the jokes. I get them now. You made a distant topic (the Vietnam War) feel close and immediate and important. Later, when I found myself very sick with Lyme's Disease, it reminded me that, as much as it sucked to be sick, at least I was home and safe and warm and dry. 

Thank you for Hook. Oh my God, thank you for Hook. I watched it over and over as a child, and when I recently introduced it to my daughter, Zoe, I half-expected to hate it, that it wouldn't live up to my memories. But the magic of that movie was unchanged for me, and when Zoe asked to watch it again the following morning I was thrilled to turn it back on. To see a grown man be so fresh and playful and fun is to see something magic. 

Thank you for Mork and Mindy. Thank you for that, the show that made me giggle when I was so small I can hardly remember. Thank you for being funny and bright.

Thank you for Dead Poets Society, which came out two days after my 10th birthday. You taught me to love words, to love life, and you taught me to YAWP. You taught me that teachers care (an important lesson for a 10-year-old already bored with school), and that students sometimes teach. 

And listen: I know you didn't write these movies. I know you didn't create them. But you created the characters from your own flesh and blood. From your own heart. You made them feel so real, like I knew them, and you often made me fall in love.

Hey you. Yeah, you. You with the rubber face and the kind blue eyes. I'm so grateful for all you gave our world.

It seems like every time there's a celebrity death, the reaction is greatly divided. Some people take to social media to be sad; others to complain that we, the ones who didn't know you, have no right to be sad; others to spout angry vitriol at the newly dead. But you. Yeah, you. I want you to know that last night on all the social media I follow, I saw only sadness. Profound sadness. And regret that we'd never get to see you again. And regret that, for all the laughter you shared, it seems we couldn't give enough back to you in the end.

And to those who say we, the little people, can't mourn, I say this: our relationships with the faces that populated our childhood (faces like yours, you see) are simple and elegant, with none of the complexities indigenous to real-life relationships. We saw only the good in you, and we loved you for all that good. I mourn the loss of someone I loved from afar.

Also, to those curmudgeons, I'll add this: if the funniest man in a generation could succumb to depression, couldn't any of us? Don't we all know someone battling depression on some level? Wake up, people. Depression is a thing and it's real and it's far more dangerous than we like to admit. If you love someone who's fighting it, help them. If you're fighting it yourself, don't fight alone. Please.

But this isn't about that. This is about you, sir. Mr. Williams. Robin. The man who made us all so happy.

Thank you for that. Thank you for the laughs, the tears, the memories. Thank you for all you gave this world.

To die is an awfully big adventure, it's true. But to have lived, and to have brought so much joy onto this planet....that was an awfully big adventure, too. I thank you for letting us be a part of it.

August 10, 2014

Kid stuff

Growing up, I never wanted kids. Like, at all. 

The weird thing is, I always loved kids! Summers spent at the pool always found my best friend and me taking care of her little brother and sisters and the various other smaller children found in the shallow end. We loved it.

But I never wanted my own.

I always babysat. There were families for whom I babysat that I still love today, families who weren't related to me but by now feel like they are. It was a great gig for me, the girl who loved kids. I got to play with kids, play with their toys, and I got paid to do it.

Seriously. It was the best job ever.

But I was always happy to give the children back at the end of the day. Always. No matter how much I loved them, I was always happy to go home and not have to play with kids, to not have to cook for them and clean up after them. I always appreciated the amount of work kids entail, and I always appreciated my down time.

Until college.

That's when I met a particular family, with a particularly sweet little boy who stole my heart (and let's be honest...even though he's old and in high school now, there's still a part of my heart that's forever his). 

I remember going to his house, and he was always so happy to see me! His mom would leave and we'd play with Play Doh, we'd crash his cars, we'd run around and do cartwheels outside, and I'd think, "Man, this kid really loves me, and I really love him. This is so cool!"

But then came the inevitable moment: his mom (who I loved just as much - dad, too - they were just that kind of a family) would come home, and something would change in the little boy's face, in his entire being. While we played he'd be having fun, but as soon as his mom came home, something shifted. Something relaxed. It was as if the show he'd be putting on for me could finally end because, oh, thank goodness, Mom was home. Hooray for Mom! Mom makes everything...not better, no, because things were already pretty good when it was just the two of us playing...but...for that little boy, Mom was home. She made home for him.

I remember, in those moments, knowing nothing could ever be better than to be a mom and to have a sweet little kid love you so much. And to love a sweet little kid so much.

Those were the first moments I ever even considered having a kid of my own.

****

Flash forward more years than I'm going to admit (I'm still 29, right?!?!?). I've got a kid of my own, and I love her more than I ever imagined possible...because that's what happens, right? And we've spent the WHOLE summer side-by-side, rarely being out of each other's sight for more than an hour or two. So we're pretty tight...and I'm pretty exhausted and ready for some time to myself again. 

Last night Zoe was having a sleepover with her NaNa so Charles and I could finally go see Guardians of the Galaxy (and also because Zoe LOVES sleepovers with her NaNa, and NaNa LOVES sleepovers with her Zoe). All was going great. She's had a bazillion sleepovers there, and we've never had a problem.

Until last night.

As the movie was nearing the closing credits, my phone rang. It was NaNa. I suddenly became that obnoxious girl, answering my phone in the crowded movie theater, stage-whispering until I reached the hallway. 

It seemed Zoe had something in her eye at bedtime, and now she couldn't sleep.

She got on the phone and immediately started crying. And not just any crying. It was that desperate, choking, hiccuping kind of crying. The kind that breaks your heart.

It only took a second before I agreed to come get her. 

So off we drove, 35 minutes across a flooded downtown, to the other side of Charleston to get her. And as soon as we walked into the room where she lay, sleepy and sniffly and blanketed on the couch, I saw it.

She relaxed. She sighed. She was suddenly confident that everything was right in the world because Mom - ME - and Dad - CHARLES - were there!

Don't get me wrong. Things with NaNa were good. They were great, in fact. So great Zoe somehow conned NaNa and our aunt into contributing $40 to Zoe's American Girl Doll fund.

But when Charles and I walked in....just like when my friend would come home when I was babysitting her little boy....things were suddenly right again.

So yeah. That was nice. This whole parenting thing is....

Excuse me.

*YAWN*

Can someone please pass the coffee? I was up a bit late last night.

August 7, 2014

Scarier than fiction

I grew up in the era of missing children on milk cartons. I grew up in the era of Stranger Danger and bad guys snatching children from the streets of big cities by drawing them over with offers of candy. I grew up in the era of windowless vans sitting silent in parking lots, their drivers stalking young prey.

When I was 12, a little boy was supposedly snatched from a carnival in my hometown. I'd been at that carnival the night before the snatching, wandering around the park with my friends, and the scariest thing facing me that night was the floor dropping out from the walls of the Gravitron. 

The following night the little boy disappeared. He was only five, seven years my junior and thus far more vulnerable than I. But still. A little boy disappeared! From my hometown! He was snatched! Just like all those kids on the milk cartons.

The whole town shut down, it seemed, while searching for him. We spoke of little other than the little boy for ages. 

Where was he? Was he still alive? Who snatched him?

Rumors abounded, of course. There were men with knives and nefarious intent. There were accusations that it was his mother, that she'd done something to him and hid it with a false kidnapping story.

But no. That couldn't have been the case, right? Not to us, children with mothers who'd have died to protect us. Not in our hometown.

****

The following year, the boy's remains were found in a town twenty minutes away. 

A little boy was dead, and someone was to blame. We just didn't know whom.

His face vanished from the milk cartons, and soon from our memories.

****

It all came flooding back last night when I saw the first report that, twenty years after the fact, his mother has been charged with his murder. A Grand Jury indicted her, and she was yanked from her Florida home to answer for her crimes.

Thank God there's no Statute of Limitations on murder.

It all came back, as soon as I saw his name. Timothy Wiltsey. The terror I felt as a child. The "what if it had been me instead?" The feeling as though the floor had dropped out from me on the Gravitron but it had ceased its spinning and I was falling, falling through an endless hole. 

How had I forgotten that?

How had his name disappeared from my psyche?

No matter. It's back. And I remember those long nights, wondering how close I came to being the one snatched that night at the carnival as I wandered about with my friends? How close had I come to being the dead child?

Nowhere near as close as I once feared, it seems now. But real life? It's so scary sometimes. Can you imagine that little boy's last moments, as his mother allegedly bore down on him to kill him? 

I can't. But I imagine I'll spend some time in the future, writing something about it. Trying to tell his side of the story in some other way. I imagine little Timothy will find a place, masked perhaps but still there, in some future piece of fiction by me. 

Because once someone is there in your life, infiltrating your dreams, there's only one way to purge them. At least when you're a writer. 

Poor little guy. I hope he found some peace after his death. If I ever try to tell a story like his, I'll make sure he does.

August 5, 2014

More thoughts on cover art

I was so excited last week to share the gorgeous cover art for my upcoming horror/sci-fi novel, JO. It's really beautiful, right? It made me decide to take a day and talk about cover art in general, how it's worked out with me, and why I love my various cover artists.

Cover art is sooooooooo important, especially to a little indie author like myself. Think about it...when you go to a bookstore (be it Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookseller), what do you see first? Covers. What makes you pick up a book and turn it over to read the back? Covers. What makes you stop and think, "I need to read this," without even knowing what the book's about?

You guessed it. Covers.

Good cover art is about the best thing an author can do (besides write a kick-ass book). I've been really lucky to have great covers (in my opinion, anyway) for all my books/stories, and JO is definitely no exception. But the process by which you get your cover can vary greatly, depending on whether you're publishing with a huge publisher, a small one, or publishing yourself. Let's chat a bit about it.

I'm going to start with the Undead America series, which has two books already released and one still to come. Undead America is released via a small press publisher called MuseItUp Publishing. They're located in Canada, and are run by the inestimable Lea Schizas. She's the head honcho, the lady in charge of everything, and she's got a great supply of cover artists at her disposal for the Muse books.

Me? I was SO lucky to be paired with Marion Sipe, who's done both Undead America covers. Working with her has been fantastic, as has the process of working with a small press. With Marion and Muse, authors fill out a questionnaire about their books, including characters, settings, major plot points, and the like. We're also requested to provide some examples of covers that we love. Marion took all that into account when creating the covers to my Undead America series, and I think she did a great job. I especially requested the black/white/read combo, and she was kind enough to work with me on that each time.

 

What do you think? I think they came out pretty great, actually. 

When I decided to self publish my short story, "In the Land of the Blind," it's entirely possible the final decision TO publish was brought about when I found this cover.


Seriously. I had to have it, and since my short story was about people going blind, it was perfectly suited.

The thing is...there are lots of artists out there putting out quality pre-made book covers for indie authors like myself. If you find a good one....hop on it as soon as you can! Email the artist, send them your title and author info, and go. It's not too expensive, and it's worth it to have a great cover. This one came from a site called Go On Write, and the artist was super fast and professional. I love this cover so much!

And this brings us to JO. My sweet JO.

When I made the decision to put JO out there, I knew a lot was going to depend on the cover. I thought about hiring someone to commission something from scratch - I thought about spending hundreds of dollars to get it right, in fact. But then, as I was browsing those pre-made covers again, I saw the image of JO, right there before my eyes, at The Cover Collection. Though the background wasn't right (at first it was an autumnal forest, and JO takes place in the dead of winter), and though we eventually changed the fonts, the image of the girl, starting up with white-out eyes, was too perfect to pass up.

I emailed the cover artist, Debbie, and asked if she'd be willing to work with me to change up the background to something snowy, and add that pop of red I love so much. She responded that she would, and thus began a new and exciting professional relationship.

Seriously. Debbie has been fantastic. She's done the ebook cover, the print cover, and even a second version of the print cover when I decided to change up the size of the book. Here's what the final print cover will be. Tell me it's not fantastic??


Cover art is SOOOOOOO important. I hope/plan to work with each of these artists again as I continue to write books. If you're an author in need of a cover, I hope you consider them as well. They're all so fabulous and professional; I can't recommend any of them highly enough!