October 9, 2014

#TBT: Our Alma Mater, Sayreville High



Let's go back in time for a minute, you and me.

It's the fall of 1996. I'm still Leah Soltis, a skinny, geeky girl living in Sayreville, New Jersey. For the past five years, I've attended every single football game my high school has played...and most of the ones for the two years prior to that. I'm a flag girl, a member of the marching band's color guard, and my brother was on the marching band for two years before I was old enough to join. By the fall of '96, I've been to over a hundred football games, and I'm actually the Captain of the color guard, if you can believe that. A Senior. Our band is on its way to a state title for our division. In a few week's time, we'll march onto the old Giants Stadium field and perform the best we've ever performed.

But that's not what I'm going to talk about today.

Today let's talk more about those football games. 

Like I said, I went to every game. I cheered my team on from the stands under balmy late summer skies, and in the freezing rains of November. I basked in the warmth of a harvest moon, and I huddled under ponchos and blankets, snuggling with my girlfriends to keep warm. 

I learned a love of the game of football in those years, and it's stuck with me ever since. (Seriously. Ask me sometime about that time the Giants were in the Superbowl and I was six months pregnant with Zoe and the refs made a bad call and I climbed up on my coffee table to yell at them....Charles was not pleased.)

On this particular day, at this particular game, the football team is marching its way toward a state championship. And man, I want them to win. We all do.

It's a home game tonight, and I have friends on the field. Because even though I was a band/theater/academic club geek, I was lucky. I was able to make friends with all sorts of people back then, and some of my friends happened to be on the football team. They were good guys...one, in particular, helped me get through A.P. Math that very same year. I sat with him and a couple of other jock-friends every day, and we did a LOT of group work. Thank goodness - I wouldn't have passed that class without them.

But I digress. Back to the game.

It's nearing its end, and despite this being one of the best seasons in our school's storied football history...we're losing. Nothing our team can do is helping. Our plays are falling apart. We're losing yards instead of gaining.

The minutes are winding down, faster than we want them to. We want more time instead, to get the score back to even. We want more time instead, to win.

It's not meant to be.

The players, the band, the cheerleaders, the spectators....everyone in our stadium....we're all on our feet, cheering on our team, hoping that maybe, MAYBE, one more cheer will be the boost they need to make it. The boost they need to win.

It's not meant to be.

The clock zeroes out, and the other team had wins.

It's the senior players' last game, and together, they tak a victory lap around the field. It's not a victory lap for that game, though. No. Rather, it's a victory lap for their high school careers. For their team's success over the prior four years. 

Many of them have tears cutting paths through the dirt on their faces. That one particular friend, the one who helped me through A.P. Math, cries as he runs. Tears burn white-hot in my eyes as well. I hate to see the season - their careers - end that way.

But it's a beautiful thing, that victory lap. There's not a single person in our stands who isn't clapping for our players. We were so proud they've come so far. We're so proud of their journey. 

I'll never forget that moment.

****

As much as it hurt to see my team lose that day, it hurts a thousand - a million - times more to have that gorgeous memory stomped all over, turned upside-down, topsy-turvy, inside out, the way it's been over the past few days.

This fall, fall of 2014, 18 years later, my old high school's football team has been shut down amid allegations of hazing...of abuse...of the sodomizing of children in the Sayreville War Memorial High School football team locker rooms. 

Oh, dear God, Sayreville. What have we done? What have we allowed? What has been happening in a locker room while adults were nearby, able to stop it, but allowing it to happen?

What the hell kind of culture have we created?

I'm heartbroken for the victims of this alleged abuse. I'm heartbroken for the abusers, too, though. For an abuser is often created by abuse. What was done to those players in the past, to make them think this type of behavior was okay? What chain of abuse has been allowed to exist in that locker room, and for how long?

I look back on that night, so very long ago, and I wonder....there were good guys I knew on that team. Was this going on back then? Had they partaken in the chain of abuse? Were they hurt? Did they hurt?

There are so many questions, and so many people can answer. So many people can shed light on the darkness of that locker room. I truly hope they will.

My hometown is hurting. I wish I was there, to stand with my classmates and my friends as they stand up together for the victims. I wish I had been there in Kennedy Park (Oh, God, remember the cement hills? The rope swings? The chain nets?) for the vigil. 

I hope my hometown can be strong. I hope they can come together like we did that night, for our team, long ago. I hope they can let this investigation not become a witch hunt, but rather a hunt for truth.

I hope my hometown can heal. I hope that, once the truth is told, that terrible wound that's been ripped through all our guts can begin to close. There will always be a scar, that's for sure, especially for those children most directly involved in these heinous crimes. But scars can be overcome.

Those poor children. Their poor parents. 

We have to do better, Sayreville. We can do better. I know it. I'm here with you, watching from afar, and I stand with you. Let's find our answers, let's fix the problem, and let's begin to heal. We owe it to ourselves....and those children.

October 7, 2014

In lieu of something more serious....ZOMBIES ATTACK GIVEAWAY!!!!!

Hey!

So I was bitchy yesterday morning....and then SCOTUS took HUGE steps toward marriage equality later in the day....and I'm still processing my happy thoughts on that so I can talk coherently about the topic later this week (Ellen, I'm going to have to plan that party we discussed, aren't I???)...so I thought....why not talk zombies for a minute?

It's pertinent, right? The Walking Dead starts SUNDAY and OMG I CAN'T WAIT HAVE YOU SEEN THE TRAILER YET!?!? Andrew Lincoln's beard, man....Andrew Lincoln's beard.

Plus, from Liberia, home of the Ebola outbreak, we're seeing (clearly bogus) reports of Ebola victims rising from the dead, zombie-fied. 

So...that made me wonder....I've written three books about zombies (Book 3 in the Undead America series is coming SOON to an online outlet near you...). I've talked survival. I've researched weapons. I've thought about all the ways a person could try to survive (and still probably die) in the apocalypse.

But what would I do?

What would I do if something happened in the middle of the day, when Zoe's at school and Charles is at work and the rest of my family is scattered around the country?

(The answer there seems clear....get to the school, get my child, go home and wait for my husband. When he gets home, try my parents' place in the country. Carry my baseball bat everywhere I go. And so on and so forth.)

What would I do if I happened to be out of town, far from my husband and child?

What would I do if Charles was away?

What if what if what if...

What if things were so bad that there was no way to fight, no way to survive? Or the only way would be to turn Zoe into a child like Carl, or worse, like Lizzy (Walking Dead references...look 'em up)? Would I want that?

Or would I be one of those parents who quietly gives my child a mouthful of poison, then drinks two mouthfuls myself, and lets us die in peace, while everything falls apart around us?

I don't know the answer to the question. I don't know what I would do.

So I'm throwing the question out to you: what would YOU do? How would you survive? What's your Zombie Apocalypse plan?

Answer in the comments, or on Facebook. My favorite answer will win an early e-copy of Undead America 3. I have no idea when you'll get it, but you will. Early. And trust me...you want to read it. :D

Make 'em good, people. This is all entirely subjective.

October 6, 2014

A moment on a soapbox

Okay. I feel stupid for even commenting on celebrity gossip. Normally I make a point of AVOIDING celebrity gossip. But my feathers have been ruffled, and thus I must take to my blog, get up on my soapbox, and say:

Yes. Bruce Jenner, of Olympic and Kardashian fame, looks a little bizarre right now. No longer masculine, yet not quite a woman, rumors are all a-flying.

Normally I don't give a SHIT what Bruce Jenner looks like.

But as one of those latest pictures floated across my FB page, with dozens of posters and commenters mocking his appearance, you know what I saw?

I saw a man who's wondering if he's transgender, or a transvestite. I saw a man who's considering transitioning to become something new.

And I saw people mocking him for it.

UGH.

People facing gender identity issues are far more common than you may imagine. Experimentation in the name of finding the skin that suits is just as common. When I was a little girl, I tried to become a boy. Turns out, once hormones kicked in, I was mighty fine with being a girl.....but before those hormones overtook me, I dressed like a boy, cut my hair like a boy, and fought my mom any time she tried to get me into a dress.

Someone very close to me was once very similar to me. She, too, wanted to dress like a boy, cut her hair like a boy, and to BE a boy.

And for her, when hormones kicked in, it became clear she WAS a boy.

She is now a he, and he is one of my favorite people in the world. 

The transition was tough. It was confusing for everyone involved, at least for a little while. But now it all makes perfect sense. 

Imagine facing these questions yourself. Imagine feeling like your clothes don't  fit. Imagine feeling like your body doesn't fit. Imagine having to tell all your friends and family, "Hey, I'm going to transition," or even, "Hey, I'm going to dress like this other person for a while, just to see if it fits."

Now imagine doing that as a celebrity, with the world watching.

Dude. Leave Bruce alone. He's clearly trying to work some stuff out, and our snarky comments aren't helping.

Thanks. I'll get off my soapbox now.

September 23, 2014

Just for Funsies: Zombie Weapons

My parents just moved onto some land out in the country. They have horses, and want their horses to finally be able to share their address. 

Of course, no land is perfect, though, and their couple acres need to be cleaned up a bit before the horses can move in. My oldest brother, Jonathan, is here this week, helping to clear out some of the woody parts of the property.

This is the view from their back fence.
We've had so much rain here lately, this isn't normally a pond.
But you get the idea. Trees, vines, mud, muck. 

So of course I decided to help.

And of course we needed to talk zombies while we worked, and of course we now consider ourselves ready for the apocalypse! 

Because weapons!

Everybody, meet Jonathan.
He's killer with a chainsaw.

Me? I prefer this knife.
I think the hook on the end gives it that little something special.
Don't you agree?

Anyway, much as I joke (and much as I LOVE that knife), every time I do something like this I realize more and more: I'd never survive a real zombie apocalypse. It wouldn't be the zombies to get me, though. It would be the bugs. The ticks in particular. And the fact that, with my insomnia and compulsive need to feel clean at night, I'd never sleep and I'd go absolutely insane.

And incidentally: today I also learned I have an irrational fear of chainsaws. *shakes fist at Texas Chainsaw Massacre*

See? Insane.

Happy Tuesday and I hope I made you smile.


September 17, 2014

I'm Falling in Love with John Scalzi's Lock In

Yeah. You read that right. I'm falling - hard - for a brand new sci-fi thriller, penned by none other than John Scalzi (of the Old Man's War series and Hugo-award winning Redshirts).

But it may not be for the reasons you expect.


Sure, the story is fun and exciting. Sure, the sci-fi tech is accessible even to an English major like me. And sure, I love the idea of characters who've become "locked in," thanks to a disease that shuts down their nervous systems but not their thought/communication processes (hey all you Ice Bucket Challengers - this part will interest you!!!). It's only through human "Integrators" or mechanical "Threeps" that these characters are able to communicate and live semi-normal lives, and it's INTERESTING.

But nope. Those aren't the reasons I'm falling so hard for this book.

A big part of the reason is this: there are two characters, Jim Buchold and Rick Wisson, who are MARRIED. Yep. You got it. Two guys, married.

And here's the BEST part, the part that makes me love this book so damn much I want to squeeze it: in this book, this lovely little sci-fi novel, the fact that Jim and Rick (two dudes) are married is absolutely NO BIG DEAL!

YES!!!!!!!

A gay, married couple, treated JUST LIKE ANY OTHER CHARACTERS!!! They're introduced as guests at a dinner party, and it goes something like this: one guy introduces himself to the main character as the other guy's husband. The main character....doesn't even comment. It's just a fact, like any other fact at that dinner party. Far more interesting than the fact that Rick and Jim are married is the discussion around the plight of people infected by Haden's, the disease causing the locked in phenomena.

Jim and Rick are not the phenomena. Not at all. They're just two guys at the party.

Later, when something bad happens to Jim's business (I'm trying hard not to give spoilers here), we see Rick make Jim a drink, just like any other loving spouse would do. When Jim doesn't drink it, Rick does instead, just like any other loving spouse would do. They're not treated any differently than any other married couple in any other book.

Look. This may not seem Earth-shattering, but it is. There are a lot of books out these days with LGBT characters. In many of them, a character's being LGBT becomes a central theme of the work. And that's good. In fact, that's great! We need to discuss these issues! It's important!

But perhaps just as important is providing characters that are LGBT, and NOT making their sexuality central to the story. By letting LGBT characters become a part of the landscape, no different from anyone else in the supporting cast, Scalzi is making a huge statement. "Hey, world, this is normal. This is no big deal. This is how we SHOULD be treating LGBT people IN REAL LIFE."

I love it. So much it hurts.

(Of course, I'm only about a third of the way into the book. LGBT themes may come into play later on. Rick and Jim might be the bad guys! I have no idea! If that becomes the case, I'll update this post, I promise. But from what I know of Scalzi and his politics, gleaned from years of reading his blog, I don't think that'll be the case.)

(Don't forget - I'm a slow reader. It may take me another full week to reach the end. So don't wait around today, expecting an update.)

But yes. Please! Go buy Lock In, and support the idea that having a gay, married couple in your sci-fi novel should be treated as NO BIG DEAL! Because YES! LOVE! EQUALITY! HOORAY!

****

UPDATE:

I finished Lock In, and I'm still in love. It was a fun read, it spoke my language (code, patches, software, hardware - years in the software industry have taken their toll on me and I love to see that world in fiction), and the ending was completely satisfying.

Was it the best thing I've ever read? Maybe not, but still, it was super-fun. I highly recommend it, especially to all my old software buddies out there!

September 15, 2014

Florence Comic Con 2014

Hey y'all! Happy Monday!!! I'm completely exhausted but I'm up and have done my daily abs challenge (don't ask), made breakfast for Charles and Zoe, and am sitting on the couch wondering if Bennett the pup has a belly ache (more on that later).

Yesterday was a LONG and FUN day, hence the exhaustion. I sold books at the 2014 Florence Comic Con, and whew....it was crazy. Good crazy, though.

Florence is a city in South Carolina that's about two hours north of where I live in Charleston. I was invited to the con earlier this year when I was at the Captain's Comic Expo, and it sounded too fun to pass up. And since we didn't make the decision about who was going (would I go it alone? Bring just Charles? Charles AND Zoe?) until 10:00 Saturday night, Sunday was destined to start early and end late.

A quick note here on kids and Cons....Zoe came to Captain's with Charles and me last year. There were jump castles and toys and all kinds of books to look at, but she was still somehow bored within about two hours. Thus, I discouraged her from coming to Florence, and my mom was going to keep her overnight and all day Sunday, taking her to visit horses and to get into all sorts of shenanigans. But Zoe became determined (somewhere around 9:00 Saturday night) to go help Mommy, so home she came, and to Florence she went. More on how THAT went later...

So. We left the house at 6:30 a.m., locking the dogs together in the laundry room with a dog bed that was doomed to destruction, and we headed up to the con. Since I'd learned a little at Captain's last spring, here are some things I knew to pack:
  • Extra books (I sold out early at Captain's, probably because everyone was SUPER sweet to me);
  • WATER;
  • SNACKS; and
  • Stuff for Zoe to do
The drive wasn't bad at all, and we made it to the Con just in time to set up before their 9 a.m. (loose) deadline. Already the cosplayers were out in force. That was something that was new and different about the Florence Con....TONS of cosplayers. Lots of pics to come in a sec with some of our favorites. That wasn't really a thing in Charleston....some people dressed up, but not to the extent they did in Florence. We had tons of fun people-watching.

People started to arrive around 10, and sales were slow but steady throughout the day. I didn't sell out because I brought enough books, but I sold enough to be very satisfied. I sold more in one day in Florence than I typically do in a month online...so that's VERY cool, AND people were able to buy both JO and ZOMBIE DAYS, CAMPFIRE NIGHTS, which was awesome. Here are some pics...and some further Con lessons learned along the way.


This was the first selfie I took yesterday. Because PENNYWISE!!!! MY NIGHTMARE!!! So of COURSE I smiled pretty beside him. (To be fair...this was a mask....had it been a real person, I'd have run away with my tail between my legs.)


I found the Predator, too. Since I have GREAT memories of watching Predator and Predator 2 with my dad when I was a kid, I needed my picture with him. I wasn't afraid here....I swear!


Meet Zoe Maul. She was THRILLED to have such cool face paint....but this will lead to some lessons later on...

Like this:


No matter how much I pack or prep, or how much cool stuff there is to look at, Zoe will still get bored, and at some point, will wind up weeping with her Darth Maul face against my shoulder while I sell two books to a mom and daughter and attempt to sign them while not getting red and black makeup on my WHITE dress! 

Lesson learned: Pack make-up remover wipes for next year. Also: yes, her hair was sprayed quite red. That came out in her shower, though her eyes are still darkened this morning - she looks a bit like an ancient Egyptian queen!!


Charles made some new friends, too. Here is is with Harley Quinn and...um...I forget the other one's name, but they were cute and had their mom walking with them, managing their photo ops. I was amused.

Lesson learned: Leave all jealousy at home. At cons, there WILL be young women (girls, too) walking around, scantily clad, looking hot. I can't worry about them. I can only worry about me. Plus, they ARE fun to look at... ;)

And finally...


OMG INDIANA JONES BOUGHT JO!!!!!

So that was cool and it made me all kinds of giggly. Hence the giggly picture. I'm laughing hysterically here, while trying to take a selfie. It never goes well.

Lesson learned: Keep your composure, even when meeting someone dressed up as your favorite pretend boyfriend. Otherwise, your selfie will look like THIS!

We didn't get home until after 8...at which point I found the dog bed in a million pieces scattered throughout the laundry room. Which was fun to clean up. I mean, I knew it was coming - Bennett destroys beds, and when my mom let the dogs out mid-day, she let me know it was already quite a mess - but still...ugh. The puppy may have eaten some foam, hence my worries about his belly ache, so I'll keep an eye on him today. 

And then I got to wash the red spray out of Zoe's hair...and try to straighten some things up...and wash the red lipstick from my own lips....and eventually pass the hell out....

It was fun. So fun. I can't wait to do it all again next year!

September 10, 2014

A picture of success

"Hey, congrats on the release of your new book!" 

I hear it daily now, which is fabulous. If only it wasn't so often followed by the inevitable: "How are sales?"

(People: don't ask authors this. The answer is almost always, "Not quite what I hoped it would be." Because we all dream big, don't we?)

I always answer it as cheerfully as possible (which, if you know me, is mighty cheerful - in general, in public, I'm ridiculously cheerful), with my canned answer, "Oh, you know, slow and steady. A book or two a day. For me, that's great!"

And I smile and swallow back the self-doubt and the equally-inevitable, crushing thought: "It's not enough. It's never enough."

And then I think about my (seemingly modest) definitions of success, and how I never seem to be there. "Success," or my picture of it, always seems to be just out there, tantalizingly beyond my fingertips, but close enough to taste it. To not give up on reaching.

It's frustrating, to say the least.

But then, this weekend, my daughter, my Zoe, taught me a really good lesson about what the picture of success can - and should - be.

****

Zoe came out of the womb kicking. I'm not lying. She used to sit in her little bouncy seat at daycare (this was back when I worked full time), kicking her little feet, happy as a clam to sit and watch and kick. She wore a hole in the foot-section of her bouncy seat that way.

It seemed, then, only natural to sign her up for soccer as soon as she was old enough (three, in this area, in case you wondered). And from the moment a coach placed a soccer ball on the ground by her feet, she took off running, and never looked back.

Seriously. I have video of her at a 3-year-old soccer clinic, quite literally running circles around the other kids, while dribbling the ball, and heading straight for the goal to boot it in. In a game when she was four, playing in the U6 recreation league, she scored 13 goals. No. That's not a typo. 13. 

Soccer is what she can do, and what she can do VERY well (at least in my mom-ish opinion).

But with all the success she was finding on the field, it soon became clear that she wanted to find success in another way. She wanted to be a GOALIE!

"Shoot the ball at me," she'd shout, every time we set up any sort of goal in the back yard. "I'm the goalie!"

And a goalie she was. She dove for the ball before anyone showed her how. She caught the ball with her hands, her stomach, her face. She'd throw herself bodily in front of the ball, doing whatever it took to keep the ball out of the goal.

Only problem? Our U6 and U8 rec leagues don't have goalies. 

Le sigh.

But have no fear! Help was on the way! This fall, we signed Zoe up for a "club" team - it's a step above rec, and now she plays against teams from around our region, instead of just in our hometown. The field on which they play is bigger and - get this! - there are GOALIES! 

HOORAY!

Now. Here's where I interrupt this story to say: I didn't want Zoe to be a goalie. EVER. I was a goalie when I played rec soccer as a kid and I HATED it. HATED. It was the WORST! It was TOO MUCH PRESSURE! Every ball that got past me was MY FAULT AND MY FAULT ALONE!

So no. Of COURSE I didn't want that for my kid!

But she is as stubborn as me, and she talked to her coaches without me, and this past Saturday, she took the field in their first games as the goalie (other girls played goal, too, but Zoe did it longest by far). They actually had a double-header, and the first game went great. Zoe's team won 9-3, so everyone came off the field smiling (though admittedly, I was still panicking over her being in goal). 

The second game was tough, though. It was a tight one. Zoe went into goal midway through the first half, and three balls slipped past her right away. I stood nearby, knowing she was upset but that there was nothing I could do, so I simply shouted encouragement.

"You're doing great!"
"Shake it off!"
"You'll get the next one!"

By halftime, though, I was hoping she'd play in the field instead of goal. I didn't want her dreams shattered by one bad game.

It was not meant to be, though. 

When she took her spot in goal in the second half, she looked so tiny standing there, framed by a giant, gaping maw of a goal. I wanted to cry. I wanted to grab my baby and take her home. But of course I didn't.

Play started. A girl from the other team headed toward her with the ball. Zoe got ready. The girl kicked the ball and...

Zoe stopped it!

She stopped the next one, too! And the next, and the next! Pretty soon the parents for the other team were cheering for her almost as much as they cheered for their own girls! 

But our girls were all tired. They had trouble moving the ball around. They weren't able to score in that second half. So the game stayed tight, 4-3, with the other team in the lead.

Still. Zoe kept stopping shots. And stopping shots. It was insane!

It was in the final minute or so that finally, another one got past her. The other team cheered. Zoe got the ball of the net, tossed it to the referee, and got back in position inside her goal. She looked more determined than I'd ever seen her.

I wish I could say here that, in a Disney-worthy moment, her team came back and scored three goals for the win. I wish I could say that, but it wouldn't be true. In the end, they left the field, losing 5-3. 

As Zoe reached the sideline, people swarmed her. 

"Great job, Goalie!" said parents from the other team.
"We started calling you No Goal Zo," said the father of one of her coaches. 
"That was almost a shutout, great job!" said someone else.

Zoe ran for the hills. Overwhelmed, a little terrified by all the attention.

I let her sit for a few minutes, then I called her over to me. I was standing far from everyone else, far enough so she listened. As she approached, I wondered what she would say. What I would say. Because I remembered...

...I remembered being 10 and losing a game in which I'd been in goal. I remembered the way I felt I let the team down. I remembered hating myself. I remembered feeling like a failure.

But not Zoe. Oh no.

As she approached, and it was just her and me in the middle of the field, set apart in our own little world, a smile broke across her face and it was like the sun came out.

"Mom!" she said, her voice hushed. Awed. "Did you see that? I only let four past!"

I grinned, and gathered her up into a ginormous hug. "Yeah," I said. "Of course I saw that. I couldn't be prouder of you. You did a great job!"

****

Success. I think I need to redefine it. I need to remember...

....Zoe only let four past. A lot more balls came her way, but she only let four past.

....I didn't only sell a book or two today. I SOLD A BOOK OR TWO TODAY! Either someone who knows me cared enough to buy a book I wrote, or a total stranger was interested enough in something I wrote to purchase it. Either way, that's a huge score, don't you think?

I sometimes forget to think that. But I'm going to try. Because Zoe taught me that this is a picture of success: