Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Second Book Blues

            After publishing my first book, I was eager to get started on book two. I had promoted the first book as number one in a series, and planned on getting the second book out in less than 6 months. That didn’t happen.

I already had an idea and even some chapters written so what was the problem? I tried chatting with other authors hoping to find some inspiration, but talking with other writers is like a double edged sword. On one hand, it is nice to be able to chat with like-minded people and not feel like I am going crazy. On the other hand, it is like a knife to the heart when they are posting their latest word count or next release date on Facebook and Twitter making me feel like I am falling farther and farther behind. How long can I milk the first book and keep readers interested before they move on?

One thing I did learn from other authors is that I am not alone in experiencing the Second Book Blues. I have talked to several writers after reading their first books only to have them say that they hope their next book doesn’t “disappoint.” I can definitely identify with that feeling.

I was excited at first when people would read my book and immediately ask me when the second book was coming out. I loved to hear that, but as time wore on, I came to dread that question because I didn’t have an answer. I was stalled on my second book and couldn’t seem to make any progress.

When I first started writing, I had an idea for two separate books. I thought it would be nice if I could somehow connect them and create a series, but I didn’t know how to connect them. About halfway through “Where Will You Run?”, I found a way to make it work. I finished the first book and figured the second book would practically write itself. Not only did it not write itself, I couldn’t write it either.

What I failed to recognize was the fact that I had been stuck in a similar position at the end of the first book. It took me months to write the end of it. I didn’t know why. I knew how the book was going to end; but for the life of me, I couldn’t write it. I was so frustrated. I talked to my Honey about it describing the ending, and he said that it was missing the “wow” factor. He was absolutely right. The reason I couldn’t write the end was because I hated it. When I figured that out and let go of the idea I had originally, I was able to finish the book in four days. Four ugly days of writing 12-14 hours in my pajamas with little to eat or drink, but I couldn’t get it out fast enough once I knew it was right.

Flash forward to late last week. I was lamenting over my problems writing the original plotline part for book two. I couldn’t make it work. There were too many holes; too many questions. I had been stuck for months. Duh. I finally realized that I hated that part of the plot. I needed that additional material when it was a stand alone book, but I didn’t need it as part of the series.

So why did I hang on to that plotline so tightly? I had already written several chapters following that story, and I couldn’t stomach scrapping all of it and starting over. Ugh. But scrap it I did and it was the best decision ever! I have started writing again and it is effortless. Now I know. If I hate it, I can’t write it. I just have to keep that in mind for future projects, so I don’t waste time pondering over my inability to write something I don’t want to.

I guess my point is, don’t be afraid to take chances if something isn’t working out, even if you have already spent a lot of time on it. Don’t hold on to something that is keeping your story from moving forward. No writing is ever wasted because you can always learn something whether it is new information about a character or just good writing practice. Thanks for stopping by and happy writing!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Awkward Moments Revisited

I was listening to a hilarious podcast from my Twitter friends Dionne and Amber (@TweepNation1) sharing some of their embarrassing moments (listen to their podcasts here). It was so funny; I thought I would share a couple of my own experiences.

A few years ago, I was working in the Psychology Department of a local university. We were providing behavioral services to mental health clients through a county funded program. Every month, one of us had to attend a large meeting at the county mental health department to discuss progress and services. There were about 30 to 40 professionals including psychiatrists, therapists, nurses, social workers, administrators, etc. We were the only outside contracted service invited to attend. One month when I went as the university representative, they had two people from the State Department of Rehabilitation giving a presentation across the table from me. Afterwards, they asked if they could leave since they were not involved in the other meeting issues, and the director agreed. One man got up and pushed in his chair. The other man got up and dropped down to almost eye level with the table. Thinking he fell, I said “Whoa!” and jumped out of my chair leaning across the table with my arms out like I could catch him. Apparently, I was the only one in the room who didn’t know he was a dwarf. Everyone else was sitting down calmly. They all turned and looked at me in shock. I sat quietly back in my seat turning a beautiful shade of red. Awkward. Dwarf guy glared at me over the table like he wanted to kick my shins. I bit back my sarcastic comments; afraid those PC loving freaks would send me to sensitivity training. Again.

Not long after my Honey and I got married, we decided to go to the Oakland Zoo. Oakland can be scary, but they have a beautiful zoo nestled in the coastal mountains. We invited my brother to go and decided to make a day of it. On our way to the reptile area, we saw an African American man with his back to us sketching something on a large pad. My brother is very artistic and wanted to see what the man was sketching. As we approached, I was so focused on watching him work that I didn’t actually look at him until we were all right next to him. When I glanced up at him, he looked like he had been hit in the face with a shotgun blast full of bone fragments. I’m guessing it was probably African tribal piercings; but in my defense, it was unusual even by California standards. For some reason, all the bones sticking out of his face completely startled me, and I reacted in a way that was unusual even for me. I wound up jumping back several feet and screaming like a girl. I ended up in front of him (in some defensive karate stance as I recall) with my brother and husband looking on in horror. Bone face looked pretty pissed off. He had been sketching the alligators, so I said “Man, that sketch is so lifelike it really scared me.” I don’t think he bought it. My brother and husband had a great time spending the rest of the day teasing me about it of course.

What are some of your most embarrassing moments? Feel free to leave a comment or write a blog about it and leave the link in the comments section. Hope I was able to give you a little giggle J

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hills Have Eyes

            This is the last installment of our nightmare trip to Disneyland. It is aptly titled “The Hills Have Eyes” A few years ago, I was unfortunate enough to watch the remake of the movie with that title. It was about some freaky mutant miners who pay a guy in town to send wayward travelers their way. Once lost out in nowhere land, the miners set a trap and blow out the tires of the poor hapless victims. Then they would taunt and kill them and take whatever valuables they had. So why make that the title of my blog? Here is the rest of the story…

            We finally packed up the Chugabug to head home after our less than stellar Disneyland trip. It wasn’t all bad. It is Disneyland after all. We set out that morning not looking forward to the long drive of hotter than Hell floorboard for me and swamp bog floor board for Shelbi. We had our towels all ready. Not to mention the on and off air conditioning depending on the temperature of the Chugabug, and vermin nest parts were still shooting out of the vents on occasion. Thankfully, we learned there was a warning whir sound before parts came out so we were able to adjust the vent and shoot the pieces in another direction; usually at each other for maximum entertainment.

            The hardest part of the journey was crossing over the “Grapevine” – a very long and nasty mountain pass that separates Northern and Southern California. We started out early; but by the time we survived Los Angeles traffic and reached the mountains, the temperature had already climbed into the 90’s. We crossed our fingers and started to climb. We passed Magic Mountain in Valencia and were making our way past the tiny town of Castaic when the Chugabug started to sputter. I knew we had gas, but it acted like it was running out, and we slowly coasted to the side of the road. I tried to start it several times, but it was dead. It was a few years ago, so we did not have cell phones.

            Here is where the Hills Have Eyes part comes in. We were on the side of the road for a very short time when a highway patrol officer pulls up and insists we go to Castaic. He refuses to leave us with our vehicle. He says he will take us to the Denny’s restaurant where we can call a tow truck. It was hot, so while at Denny’s waiting for the tow truck driver, we bought something to drink (cha-ching). The tow truck driver was stationed in Castaic, and we had to pay him to take us to the Castaic mechanic. He said he would have to keep the Chugabug overnight to see what was wrong. So now we had to get a hotel room and eat at more restaurants in Castaic. They were slowly bleeding us dry. The only thing missing was the mutant miners.

            I had to use a pay phone at McDonald’s to call my husband. He said it was vapor lock. Where the gas line gets so hot it turns the liquid gas to fumes before it reaches the engine. He said it would be fine when it cooled down. Too bad Mr. Mutant Miner Mechanic wouldn’t let us leave. I then used the payphone to try to call a rental car place. After 30 minutes in the black hole sun, $20.00 in change, and some choice curse words, I was finally able to get to a human at Enterprise Rent a Car before the phone cut off. We were able to rent a car right before they closed. You know, so we could get a hotel room and eat at restaurants while we were prisoners in Castaic.

            Sure enough, the next day, the mechanic tells us it was probably vapor lock. That meant that we couldn’t leave that morning because it would get too hot again and the same thing would happen. We had to stay in Castaic  all day again and contribute to more restaurants and gas for the rental car. Not to mention I couldn’t wait to tell my husband he was right because I just love to hear him say “I told you so.”

            We finally headed out that night (with road munchies from the Castaic store), so that we could drive when the weather had cooled off. Awesome. We might be home by midnight if we were lucky. At least we would be leaving Castaic and the mutant miners far behind even though they had robbed us of the few pennies Disneyland had left us. Sigh.

            Now whenever we travel to Southern California, we say a silent prayer when we hit the Grapevine that the mutant miners in Castaic will let us pass. However, if we do get stranded there, at least we know where to stay and where to get the best food. Happy travels and thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Disneyland: Happiest Frickin' Place on Earth

         This is part two in blog series of road trip nightmares about our trip to Disneyland. See the prior blog for part one.

We finally made it to the RV park in the Chugabug and tried our best to get some sleep, but we were so excited. My kids were finally old enough to really enjoy Disneyland and tall enough to ride most of the rides. This was going to be great.

            We got up early and walked down several hotels to catch the Disneyland shuttle. We arrived a little early, so we decided to walk back across the street and eat breakfast at IHOP. We barely made it out when the heavens unleashed and rain poured down in buckets. We ran for the closest hotel and took shelter under the entrance. We were sure the rain would pass.

After about 5 minutes, we noticed other brave souls making a run for it. We decided to do the same. Off we went running when the light turned green. About halfway across the road, my Walmart thongs turned into slip and slides, and I couldn’t keep them on my feet to save my life.  I finally had to take them off and run across the street bare foot. By the time we made it to California Adventure, we were soaked. We ran into the first store and bought our $500.00 Mickey rain ponchos. Once covered, we were ready to ride some rides. We weren’t going to let a little rain ruin our day.

We had on our expensive plastic covers for all of about 5 minutes before the rain stopped. Ok, live and learn. At least we would be prepared if it started again. Now for some rides. We noticed nothing was working. We asked a cast member what was going on. Apparently, during the thunderstorm lightning struck the lake near California Screaming. The park was not going to open the rides until the storm passed, so we were going to have to walk around soaking wet staring at all the rides we couldn’t ride.

We hopped over to Disneyland. My normally cooperative daughter somehow got it in her head that she wasn’t going to ride “baby rides,” so Fanstasyland was out of the question. Then she decided that the adult rides were too scary which pretty much left us with nothing.

As the heat started to increase, my patience started to decrease. I was counting to 10 again trying to explain to the kids that Pirates of the Carribbean was not scary when I noticed something: other parents were having the same issues. I saw a woman yank a stroller away from her husband and cuss at him. I saw another kid crying because his parents wouldn’t buy him a $200.00 churro. All around me people were falling apart. Why hadn’t I ever noticed this before when I went to Disneyland? I had been under Mickey’s spell.

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” I asked Shelbi.

 “Yeah, Disneyland, happiest frickin’ place on earth.”

I tried to be a little less uptight about our schedule and we made it to the fireworks and Fantasmic in one piece. We were able to stake out a primo spot for viewing. Then we heard the announcement that they were going to have to cancel the fireworks due to the weather. Sigh. At least we had Fantasmic.

That’s when my son lost his mind. He threw some crazy tantrum and then passed out cold. He was done. After Fantasmic we decided to call it a day. My son would not wake up. He was in the deep, comatose sleep normally reserved for princesses who eat poison apples. I picked him up and put him on my back piggy back style. Luckily, I know all of the Disneyland shortcuts. We were going to take the train right there in New Orleans Square around to the front of the park where we could walk to the shuttle. No problem.

We got to the station just as a train was leaving. We sat and waited for the next one. The station at New Orleans Square has a recording of Morse Code that plays constantly and it started to get on my nerves. They longer we were there, the closer we got to missing the last shuttle back to the hotel and we would have to walk over a mile back to the RV park.

We finally realized the Morse Code message was saying that we were screwed because there were no more trains coming. I hefted my son up on my back and we started the long trek back to the front of the park.

We made it just in time for the last shuttle. Unfortunately, it was every man for himself and we quickly got shoved out of the way. Disneyland is not known for considerate people. Shelbi got mad and shoved her way in holding out her arms to block people so we could get on.

Safe. We sat back and were able to get back to the RV. All I could think about was taking a shower on my slimey thongs and going to bed.

Next up: The trip home or The Hills Have Eyes 4.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Disneyland or Bust

          A couple of blogs back, I wrote about how much I hate road trips. I come by it honestly though. It seems like no matter how well I plan it, my trips always blow up in my face. As an example, I will do a series of blogs on the Disneyland trip I took a few years ago with the kids.

          It started when my in-laws offered us their Toyota Sunrader. They had only used it once or twice, and then parked in on their property in the mountains for several years without going inside. It was gross, but it could be cleaned.

After we got it all cleaned up, my BFF, Shelbi and I decided to use it to take the kids to Disneyland. We thought we could save some money by staying in an RV park. Genius or so we thought.

It was late summer, so we got started early in the day trying to get as far as we could before it got too hot. When it warmed up, we rolled up the windows and turned on the air conditioner. Shelbi and I started screaming when chunks of forest and other stuff started shooting out of the vents along with the distinctive smell of death. Honey said he had cleaned out a nest of rodents from under the hood. Apparently, he didn’t get it all. We fondly nicknamed it the Arkansas Chugabug which you may remember from the Hanna Barbera Wacky Races cartoon. That’s pretty much how we looked driving it too.

After the initial shock, we laughed it off. Soon, Shelbi started to notice a constant drip on her side of the floor board. It was condensation from the air conditioner that started to turn her side of the car into a swamp. I wanted to laugh, but the drive shaft was on my side and it was so hot I had to keep switching my feet on the accelerator. I had bought a special pair of sandals and had been breaking them in for all the walking on the trip. Then the Sunrader started to overheat, so we had to turn the air conditioner off for as long as we could stand it or as long as my feet could stand it. Hot, cold, hot, cold, swampy, foot fry. The poor kids were in the back fighting over a tiny fan.

We decided to take a break in Bakersfield at my grandmother’s house to let the Chugabug cool off and to let my feet cool off as well. We bailed out and started walking towards the house. Shelbi kept complaining about the water sloshing on her side, so we decided to try to get some towels to soak it up (yeah, it was that bad). I was trying to listen to her, but I noticed my shoe felt weird. I kept trying to walk, but it just wasn’t working right. When I finally looked, the heat from the floor board had melted the sole of my shoes! The right shoes was completely destroyed.

When we got back on the road later that evening, we had to stop by Walmart so I could get some sandals. That late in the season, all they had left were reject flip flops. Thankfully I found a pair close to my size, then we continued on our way to Disneyland with towels for Shelbi’s side to soak up the water and towels on my side to insulate me and my cheap flip flops from the heat. We sucked it up and powered our way to the RV park thinking the worst was behind us.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series – Disneyland, the happiest frickin’ place on earth.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Do I Write? Good Question. Uh...

This morning, I was reading a blog by Michael K. Rose called “Why Do You Write?”  (read his blog here). He took a stab at answering that question and then asked several other authors the same question. Some of the answers were humorous and some sad, but they all had an answer. When I finished reading that blog, I realized I was glad he hadn’t asked me. I didn’t have an answer. So why do I write? I had to give that some thought.

            For as long as I can remember, my brain has always entertained me with stories. People who know me know I talk about my brain as a separate entity because I don’t really think I have complete control of it. It’s more like we have an uneasy truce. My brain always seems to be working on stories even when it should be concentrating on other things, which often gets me into trouble.

In school, I was the kid branded a “daydreamer.” You would often find me staring off into space enjoying whatever story Brain had come up with for the day; playing some awesome movie in my head; pissing teachers off.

“Michelle? MICHELLE? Can you tell us the answer?”

“I’m sorry. Were you talking? What was the question?”

That hasn’t really changed much. You can still find my poor Honey saying something similar. “Hey! I was talking to you.”

But the question is: Why do I write? To be honest, I am perfectly happy enjoying Brain’s stories by myself. I’m not like some authors who feel a driving need to get their stories out. They don’t torture me. They entertain me. I have been writing forever, but it was always poetry and maybe a short story here and there; never the big ones. Brain and I always kept those secret.

Well, until the summer of 2010 that is. I shared a few of my brain stories with my sister and best friend. They told me I was crazy not to write them down. I was terrified. I had made several attempts at writing books in the past, but it was so overwhelming I could never stick with it past the first few chapters. I didn’t even know where to start.

But start I did (with some gentle encouragement from my sis and BFF). Once I got going, the story literally poured out. Brain would play little movie snippets in my head, and I would write down what I saw. It was frustrating because Brain, like me, is not especially organized and shows me things out of order. It was still overwhelming, but during that process I discovered something else. It was…fun. I wondered what would happen next. I wasn’t just a spectator, but I became an active participant. I helped bring these characters to life. I created a world that I could share with others. All those times I lost myself in a book, and I realized I could create that for someone else. What an amazing thing. I realized that writing is a gift, and I shouldn’t waste it.

           Why do I write? Because I absolutely love it; writing is the greatest adventure of all. There are no limits; no boundaries. I can travel through time, meet supernatural beings, go to far off places, meet new people all of my own creation. How cool is that?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spread Love, Not Hate - Speak Out Against Bullying

Today is the Spread <3, Not Hate campaign to speak out against bullying started by K.C. Neal and K.M. Parr. I was going to write about my own personal experiences with bullying, but my daughter, who is in the 8th grade, has been having problems with bullying for several years. I have blogged about some of her more recent experiences. She wrote an essay about bullying for school, so I asked her if she would mind sharing it today. So I would like to introduce my guest blogger for today - my amazing daughter, Megan.

Hello! Megan here! Lately, I've been doing some deep thinking about the subject of bullying. What most people don't really know (or truly bother to find out) is that bullying is not just an unrelated incident. It all stems from desensitization and insecurity. Desensitization has spread to children from the adults in their lives. People today really just don't care. I always tell myself that it doesn't matter what other people say; but we, as humans, are very social creatures. We need company; whether alive, imaginary, or inanimate. When you feel so alone that everyone is against you, you feel helpless, like there's nowhere to turn. You don't know what to do and you feel trapped, like nowhere is safe. You're always just waiting for it to happen, waiting for them to find you, to hurt you. Mental bullying might not sound as bad as physical, but trust me, it's much worse. Physical wounds and bruises can heal, but when you're called fat and ugly in the fourth grade, it sticks with you forever.

What I've come to realize is that repetitive bullying leads to 4 stages for the victim:
1. Confusion: What have I done to make this person so mad? Why do they hate me so much?
2. Denial: I haven't done anything! They need to leave me alone!
3. Breaking down: (This is when the little voices in your head start to take control) If they say all these things about me...they must be true. Why else would they be this cruel? I don't understand. Maybe I am ugly. Maybe I am stupid.
4. Emptiness: I give up. It's hopeless. I don't want to fight them anymore. I'm all alone. Nobody can help me.

One of the problems with bullies is that they usually don't see how their torture affects a person later in life. They don't get to see that little girl they teased grow into a high school student who's afraid to talk to anyone, let alone boys. That little boy they kicked around grows up and never has any friends because he is just waiting for somebody to backstab him. They were just waiting to feel empty and alone and miserable again. Nobody wants that, so why take the risk?

And, please tell me this, whatever happened to listening? Teenage suicide in the United States is the third leading cause of death in the 15 to 24 age group. So who is listening? When kids these days self-mutilate, who's listening? Who can they tell? Who can they lean on? Who walks up to them after they are bullied or beaten or whatever and says "It's okay. I'm here." Who helps? Who listens?

Recently, we were shown a PowerPoint presentation about bullying and speaking up against it in my Pre-AP Spanish class. I was horrified by the reactions of some of my classmates - mainly the male population. They laughed. One of the stories we were told was that a second grade boy had been bullied so much that he was afraid to go to school, and he tried to hang himself. I can directly quote from a boy at the top of the social hierarchy of our class, "He was too fat to climb the ladder!" followed by guffaws from his like-minded peers. I steeled myself not to break down then and there in front of all my friends. I couldn't take it. I had to get out of there before I started screaming.

The presentation itself had brought back so many unpleasant memories - ones I had repressed for years, and the insensitivity of my classmates had me in hysterics. By the time we exited the room, I was ready to just curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out. I couldn't even speak to my friends who questioned me. They eventually gave up and tried to console me as I sat on the bench outside our classroom, face in my hands, shaking. When my mother finally arrived, I ran to her car ready to explode into tears. Part of my mind, which was made only of logic, told me that I shouldn't unload all this emotional baggage on her, but I couldn't take it anymore. I needed this off my chest - everything I had mentally held inside everyday for years, so afraid; and it was time to talk.

I talked. I sobbed. I felt for that boy. I really felt for him. I understood how alone he'd felt; how afraid; how untrusting. How he maight have been the subject of hate lists. Like myself. How he must have been the butt of jokes, as I had; and how he must have wanted to die at times, like I did. I didn't want to face the truth that our generation is crumbling under the weight of insensitivity. I told my mother at the time that I couldn't understand how they could be so cruel even though I understood completely. People are cruel. Children are cruel.

But they don't have to be. We can change this. We can encourage anti-bullying campaigns like Spread <3, Not Hate, and just by listening, by being there. By taking action.
Thank you for reading
Love, Megan

As a parent, it breaks my heart to see this. With the addition of technology, kids nowdays can be bullied around the clock. It's no longer confined to the school yard. As adults, we can't just tell kids to ignore it. We have to speak out not only for our kids, but for adults as well. Bullying isn't just aimed at children. We think as adults, we are more capable of dealing with it, but that isn't always the case. Don't ignore it. Speak out. Spread <3, Not Hate.

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