Rena

(Here’s a short story I wrote a few years ago and have always been fond of. Hope you enjoy!)

Grayson Hightower did not understand what it meant to be happy.

He was not a superfluous man. He was a businessman. Forty-five, living in a posh penthouse overlooking the harbor—and he had yet to spot a grey hair. But after a slew of unsuccessful relationships, he couldn’t help feeling that millions of dollars and a huge building in the center of the city branded with his name were not the right ingredients for happiness.

She was a serious investment, but Grayson thought that Rena was worth it.

She fit all of Grayson’s requirements. Honey blonde hair, porcelain skin, wide, curious blue eyes. Her figure melted perfectly into every dress he bought for her. She laughed at all of his jokes, even if she didn’t understand them. Her features were so delicate she looked like she would break, but her smile was enough to enchant the darkest hearts.

He debuted her at a gala that was thrown in his honor—a celebration for his 25 years of service as CEO of Hightower Enterprises. His coworkers seethed with envy when they saw the gorgeous young blonde on his arm. “How’d you manage to wrangle a girl like that, Grayson?” Felix Fortescue—one of the older board members, and a friend of Grayson’s late father—asked with a wag of his bushy white brows.

Grayson smiled, looking over at Rena. She was sitting at their table, eagerly watching the couples on the dance floor, politely declining any offer to dance from other men.

“Just lucky, I suppose.”

He excused himself from the conversation and approached his date.

“Would you like to dance, Rena?” He offered his hand to her.

She grinned, and slipped her hand into his. “You’ll have to teach me. I’ve never danced before!”

Rena was a natural dancer. She moved mechanically, as though programmed to complement every move of Grayson’s. But after a few turns around the floor, Grayson’s knees grew tired and he allowed Rena to continue dancing with some of his colleagues while he stepped out on the balcony for some air. It was summer, but the night was cool, and the breeze felt nice on his flushed skin.

“You look happy, Grayson.”

He turned. Miriam Hayworth—head of the Product Development Department, and his former fiancé—had followed him onto the balcony. The ruby-red wine glass in her hand matched the fire of her hair and the bright color of her lips. He had not seen her since she broke off their engagement four years prior, though every work-related email she had sent since then had been very brusque.

“Miriam. It’s good to see you.”

The woman moved to stand beside him. As she came closer, Grayson could see that the makeup she wore had shaved a few years off of her face. From far away she could pass for thirty. “I see you’ve found yourself a new plaything,” she commented, taking a sip from her glass. “A bit young, isn’t she?”

“Jealous?” Grayson asked lightly.

Miriam snorted. “Hardly.”

Grayson peered inside. Through the glass balcony doors he could see Rena waltzing with an obviously tipsy and very ecstatic Felix. Rena was practically steering him around the floor, a vision of beauty in her dark blue gown.

“She’s the talk of the evening. You’ve impressed everyone.” Miriam remarked. Grayson noticed that she was sporting an impressive ring on her left ring finger. He had heard rumors that she had taken up with Mason Malbrook, head of Advertising. He must have been willing to give Miriam what Grayson hadn’t.

Grayson shrugged.

“Rena’s an impressive girl.”

“It’s a pretty drastic change, isn’t it?”

Startled, Grayson glanced over at her. She was avoiding his gaze – looking inside at the crowded ballroom, playing aloof. Miriam had always been overly-perceptive, something he had both admired and loathed about her. He cleared his throat.

“Maybe that’s what I needed. A drastic change.”

Rena certainly was a drastic change.

“Are you truly happy, Grayson?” Miriam asked quietly. Her green eyes observed him over the rim of her glass, as if searching for some cue in his eyes or on his face that would indicate that he was lying. Grayson sighed.

“Yes, I am. Very happy.”

“Grayson?”

Rena had crept out onto the balcony. Her eyes flitted between Miriam and Grayson, as though trying to process the situation. Miriam chuckled dryly. “I’ll leave you two alone,” she said, patting Grayson on the arm and heading for the door. She re-entered the party, her fire-red hair soon lost in the crowd. Rena walked up to Grayson, a broad smile on her face.

“I came out for some ‘fresh air’ too!” Rena informed him, looking up at the night sky. “It’s so beautiful—there are so many stars.”

Grayson looked up as well. Thousands of stars twinkling like jewels in the sky—and not a cloud in sight. He had no reason to doubt her, but he felt compelled to ask.

“Rena, are you happy?”

“Yes.”

“Honestly?”

Her eyes, almost perfectly round, were full of stars as she looked at him.

“If you are happy, I am happy.”

That was all he needed to hear.

♦          ♦          ♦

It took Grayson a while to get used to Rena’s warm smile welcoming him home every day.

He didn’t have to rely on take-out from the city’s finest restaurants or dinners from the company cafeteria anymore. He could smell her delicious home-cooked meals, the scent growing stronger as he rode the elevator to the 24th floor, guiding him.

“Welcome home, Grayson!”

Every evening she met him at the door with her illustrious smile and a kiss on the cheek. And every day he could see his own smiling face reflected in the depths of her bright blue eyes.

“I made your favorite today. I hope you like it!”

They sat together at the dining room table and she eagerly watched him eat. “It’s wonderful, Rena,” He praised her, after several savory bites. “You really are a wonderful cook.”

Rena beamed. His compliment had practically made her glow.

“I guess watching all of those cooking shows during the day paid off.”

Grayson sometimes wondered what Rena did while he was at work – he supposed she watched television, tidied up the apartment, or just sat and waited for him to return. Several of his past relationships had met their end due to the issue of his ‘spending too much time at the office.’ To Grayson, there was no such thing. The CEO had to dedicate himself entirely to his work.

Rena never once complained about being left alone all day while he was working. She fit her role seamlessly. That was all Grayson had ever really asked for.

♦          ♦          ♦

Three months into their relationship, familiar storm clouds formed.

Rena enjoyed going for walks. She didn’t get tired of walking. Some nights she would ask Grayson to take her clear across the city, every step of her feet as lively as the last. Grayson complied with her requests, despite a few aching joints. Rena could chatter on and on about everything she saw. A bluebird in a tree. A neon-accented billboard. Even a pile of month-old garbage held wonder for her.

One night, during a walk, Rena stopped suddenly. She was staring at a playground. Dusk was fast approaching, but children were still playing under the watchful gazes of nearby parents. Their peals of laughter rang out in the late-summer evening.

“Are you alright, Rena?” Grayson asked.

Her eyes were transfixed on the children.

“They’re so… small.”

Grayson had never been fond of children. They were loud and fussy and not worth the trouble. Miriam had loved children.

Grayson sighed. “They won’t always be that small. They grow up. Everyone does.”

Rena’s hold on his arm tightened.

“Was I ever that small?”

Grayson glanced down at her. In the dim light, he couldn’t read her expression.

“I don’t know, Rena.”

She stared at the children with clouded blue eyes until Grayson gently steered her away. He wondered what Rena was thinking. She wasn’t meant to wonder these things—wasn’t meant to question quite so much. He had thought Rena would be different from the others.

They walked home in silence. Something cold and familiar began to form in Grayson’s heart. It made him feel like he was on a bicycle traveling too fast downhill.

He wondered if Rena felt it too. She had to. If he did, then she did.

♦          ♦          ♦

Grayson started staying late at the office as the summer came to a close. Hightower Enterprises was entering its busiest time, and it was necessary to put in long hours, ensuring that every aspect of his business was moving smoothly.

Some nights he wouldn’t even return home. He usually informed Rena when these nights were—either by calling or telling her before he left in the morning. He assumed she would be fine since she never complained about his absence. So the one night he forgot to call, he thought everything would be fine.

He wearily entered his penthouse after midnight, and was surprised to see the light on in the dining room. Rena was there, sitting at the table in her floral-print apron. At Grayson’s place there was a plate of food that had long since grown cold.

Rena offered him a weak smile.

“Welcome home, Grayson. I made your favorite today. I hope you like it.”

Grayson didn’t understand. Had she waited all that time, watching the hours pass by, for him to come home? His hands clenched into fists at his side, and he quickly turned from the scene. Without a word to her, he stormed into his room, dressed for bed, and crawled under the sheets.

He had begun drifting off when he heard his door open. Hesitant footsteps entered the room.

“Grayson?”

Her voice sounded different. Tired, almost—which Grayson dismissed as a trick of his over-exerted brain. He did not open his eyes to look at her. He didn’t want to see her—still in her apron, looking at him with that childlike innocence.

“It’s late, Rena.”

He heard her move, and was startled when she reached for his hand. Her skin was ice cold. He struggled to keep his eyes shut.

“Are you happy, Grayson?”

She whispered it, as if it were a secret for only them to share.

It took Grayson a moment to respond—to untangle his conflicted emotions, and settle on an answer.  He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, but the effort produced no warmth from her glacial skin.

“…Of course, Rena. Are you happy?”

Rena sighed and withdrew her hand.

“If you are happy, I am happy.”

He heard her leave the room, closing the door behind her with a faint ‘click.’ His hand—the one she had held —felt so cold, Grayson had to tuck it under his pillow to warm it up.

♦          ♦          ♦

Grayson was not on good terms with any of his exes, so his options for consulting advice were limited. On his lunch hour one afternoon, he picked up the office phone and dialed down to the Product Development Department.

She answered the call with a dry chuckle.

“Well, this is certainly a surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Hightower?”

He got straight to the point. “Miriam…why did we break up?”

There was a pause on the other end.

“…Let me guess. Problems with your new toy?”

Grayson rolled his eyes. “Just tell me, Miriam. Why did you end it?”

She sighed into the receiver. He could picture her expression—it was most likely one of exasperation. That face had made many appearances toward the end of their relationship, when the age had begun to show in Miriam’s eyes, and on her face, and in her voice.

“Simple, Grayson. You ask for too much and you don’t give enough.”

Her tone was sharp. Grayson felt it pierce his chest like an arrow.

“You’ve always sought the same thing from relationships, but they always end the same way. You’ve been chasing after something that doesn’t exist.”

Grayson gripped the phone tightly. He wanted to reply, but the words were jumbled in his throat.

You remember at the gala a few months ago? You said you thought you needed a drastic change. I agree, Grayson. But I don’t think you’re willing to change what actually needs to be changed.”

Grayson didn’t want to hear anymore. Miriam didn’t understand how it was supposed to work—didn’t understand the recipe for happiness he had invested so much time and effort and money into. He slammed the receiver down and returned to his paperwork.

♦          ♦          ♦

The weather report hadn’t called for rain.

Grayson stood at the window, watching the droplets race one another, sometimes joining as they streaked down the glass pane. The harbor looked dismal, boats bobbing woefully in the gloom. He had promised to take Rena out on his boat before the weather got too cold to do so.

Rena had said that she wanted to experience the sea, and feel the motion of the waves beneath her feet. He could give her that, at least—he wanted to give her that. But nature disagreed.

“We can go out on the boat some other time, Rena.”

His comment was met with an unusual silence.

“…Rena?”

He turned from the window. Rena was slumped over at the kitchen table, her hair covering her face. Her white arms dangled at her sides, fingers slightly curled – reaching for something that was not there.

He walked to her, and gently brushed the limp blonde tendrils away from her face. The blue eyes were wide and empty, drained of all the former wonder. Her skin was cold, the cherry-red lips parted slightly, a thousand questions frozen perpetually on her tongue.

Grayson tried to close her blank eyes, but they wouldn’t budge. He swept her hair back over her face to hide them. He didn’t want her to stare at him like that.

He wondered if she had suffered. If she had known that things had changed.

She probably had. If he did, she did.

After a moment, Grayson walked into his bedroom. He opened the drawer of his nightstand, rifling through it until he found what he was looking for. He had discarded it months ago, not thinking it had any importance.

He opened the thick booklet to page one.

Hello, and congratulations!
LikeReal Industries is proud to present you
with the latest in emotion-sensitive
Android Technology.

REMEMBER: As long as you’re happy, she’s happy.

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Writing Techniques: Self-editing and revising!

Now, the following post is based solely on MY methods. This is what works for me, but might not work for all writers. We are all wired differently, and there is no universal “right” way to do things. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I am going to share my personal methods for self-editing and revising.

1.) READING OUT LOUD
Reading your work out loud to yourself may be a little embarrassing at first, and, if you’re like me, you wait until there is no one else around in order to do it, but I have found it to be incredibly helpful. Not only does it enable me to catch pesky grammar errors, such as misplaced commas or accidental double spaces, but it helps pinpoint awkward wording, and gives an audible example of how long it takes between scenes/chapters. This way, it’s easier to peg where the story drags, of if the pacing is off.

2.) DON’T FEAR THE ‘DELETE’
Writers are attached to their work. We create from our hearts, and sometimes, a scene or character might not fit into a story as seamlessly as we imagine, even if we love them. I chopped off an entire chapter of my latest MS, even though I liked it a lot, because I realized the ending worked better without it. I also slimmed down the role of and changed the personality of a character, because he didn’t fit in well with the way the story was headed. I wish I had cut out the epilogue of I’m With You, and thus left the end to the reader’s imagination – and I hope to never make such a mistake again. I also once received professional feedback on a first draft and was told that a character/scene seemed out of place, and it was suggested that I remove it. I knew I didn’t want to do that, though I recognized that, if I wasn’t cutting it out entirely, I needed to make changes in order to make those parts weave into the narrative more effectively. So, instead, I edited those portions of the story and was able to implement changes to make the elements work better. It’s hard to delete work you’re proud of, whether it be a full chapter, or a character, or even a whole plot point, buy sacrifices are sometimes necessary, so it’s important not to fear the backspace or delete buttons.

3.) INTERPRET FEEDBACK
I have gotten incredibly helpful and important feedback on my work from a variety of sources, both professional and personal. But just because someone tells you their opinion on a facet of your work doesn’t mean you have to do what they suggest, though you should hear them out. If I don’t agree with something that is pointed out to me, I try to pinpoint why they felt that way, and then reassess my options. As I mentioned before, I had someone tell me that I might be better deleting an element of a story, but instead, I edited it to suit the narrative in a more effective manner. So feedback, whether it be positive or negative, can be the gateway to more options for self-improvement and self-editing.

4.) KNOW YOUR WEAKNESSES
I know my writing-related weaknesses very well, but, despite being aware of them, I am known to slip up. It happens for all of us, I’m sure. So, when I’m poring over my latest project, those errors are the first thing that I look for, both grammatical and content-wise. For example, I recently noticed that I used the word ‘accentuate’ twice within four paragraphs. Like.. why.

5.) TAKE YOUR TIME
This might not be the most fun phase of the writing process… and trust me, I agree that it absolutely is not. But it is arguably one of the most vital, so rushing it is a big no-no. It is important to take a focused, objective look at your work – ideally, more than once, and even more than twice – in order to polish it as much as possible, especially if you are seeking publication. You want to be your best, and show your best work. So take your time, and don’t rush it.

Hearts, Hearts, My Kingdom for Some Hearts!

My gaming history is not as extensive as some, but, in addition to being a master at the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy (and the Reignited version,) three other prominent series feature in my repertoire. One is Final Fantasy – I have yet to play them all, but X, VIII, and Crisis Core are some of my all-time favorites. I am also a Pokemon master. But the last is Kingdom Hearts, and, since Kingdom Hearts III is FINALLY dropping at the end of the month, I thought I’d make a post about why I love the series so much.

Kingdom Hearts I was released for the PS2 in 2002, when I was ten years old, but I didn’t play it (nor KHII, released in 2005) until around eighth/ninth grade. I remember seeing the commercials for it, though – and being drawn in by Utada Hikaru’s theme song for the original game. Going into it, all I knew was that it combined Final Fantasy-type elements with Disney, an idea that could only have been cooked up by a Square Enix employee and a Disney employee meeting in an elevator.

khfm.0.0

I thought it sounded silly – a wide-eyed, big-shoed protagonist named Sora fighting to save Disney-themed worlds from being engulfed in darkness with Donald Duck and Goofy at his side – but eventually picked up the game on special at Game Stop… and that was it. I was hooked from the first opening cinematic.

Now, I made things difficult for myself when I played KH1. I might have skipped over some tutorial stuff… and did not realize you could change your Keyblade until I was battling Ursula. So… yeah. I’m not going to claim to be some expert on the games, but I have since proven to be rather efficient at the series. I’ll admit, I have played, but never beaten, Chain of Memories (both the GBA and PS editions) and 358/2 Days. I hated the battle system in both, so I gave up before finishing them. The only hand-held games I really got into were Birth By Sleep and 3D, both of which I loved. I also own most of the manga series, a figurine, and a couple of blankets with KH designs on them.

50My favorite keyblades are Lionheart, Rumbling Rose, and Stroke of Midnight. My favorite worlds are Neverland (in both Birth by Sleep and the original game) Halloween Town (in both I and II) Space Paranoids from II, Castle of Dreams from Birth By Sleep, and both Prankster’s Paradise and Symphony of Sorcery from 3D. My favorite playable character is Aqua, my favorite villain is Vanitas, and my favorite Disney companions are Peter Pan and Tron, though Beast is a badass too. The boss battle I most struggled with (besides Ursula that first time through) is probably Xaldin, in II. And yes… “JUMP UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK!!!” is probably the most annoying line in the entire series. I have yelled “SHUT UP, PHIL” many, many times at my television screen.

kingdom_heartsThere’s an earnest quality to the Kingdom Hearts games, which is part of what makes it so appealing to me. At it’s core, it’s a story about the power of friendship against the pull of the shadows, of darkness vs. light, and the mottled, massive gray space in-between it all. It’s unabashed fun that doesn’t apologize for being occasionally convoluted, that doesn’t acknowledge how absurd it is to have Squall Leonhart teaming up with Merlin, or Sora rescuing the puppies from 101 Dalmatians from the multicolored mouth of the whale Monstro, of the heroic trio beating Captain Hook in battle, then flying around the face of Big Ben in search of a keyhole. The artwork and character/world design is fantastic across all of the games, and the music is wonderful, combining original themes and Disney scores. Whenever I hear any version of the theme song, my chest swells with excitement, and I go into new Disney films wondering what a Kingdom Hearts version of that world would look like. It has become the series that I have bought entire consoles for – I bought a PSP just for Birth by Sleep.

I haven’t been waiting thirteen years for the next main installment in the series, like many dedicated fans of the Kingdom Hearts series have. Regardless, I cannot wait until the end of this month, where we will finally, after seventeen years, reach the end of the current saga, and the war for Kingdom Hearts reaches a dramatic and conclusive finale.

Thumbs

We all have flaws. I am a flawed being, and, though I consider myself relatively good at admitting to and aspiring to mend my flaws, there are some I cannot change because they are a part of me. I am, of course, talking about my thumbs.

I am the unfortunate bearer of what some may call “toe thumbs.” I actually didn’t notice that my thumbs were different until my sister, best friend, and I were putting on fake nails as kids, and none would fit over my thumb nails. And, to make matters worse, my thumbs aren’t even the same size as each other, and one has a scar from an unfortunate incident with a fixture at work.

Here they are, for reference:

20190110_142355.jpg
GASP. The horror.

Awful, right? I mean, as far as flaws go, it’s not as disastrous as, say, a debilitating disease. But they aren’t a selling point, either.

Y’all normal-thumbed people take it for granted. Literally every single time I attempt to type “thanks” on my phone I accidentally type “thabks.” EVERY TIME. And it’s all thabks to my stupid thumbs. And you’d think having abnormally shaped thumbs would be a boon for video gaming, but more often than not, it’s a hindrance, unless I need to press two buttons at once. Giving folks a “thumbs up” always looks slightly off. I’d never make it as a hitchhiker. Touch screens are the devil. My hands, in general, are exceptionally clumsy, and I chalk it up to my awkward thumbs.

I was teased for my thumbs as a child, to the point where some fellow kids gave me the ever-so-creative nickname of “Thumbs.” I was also teased for my horrible crooked teeth, which, after several years of ruthless orthodontia, have been completely fixed. Alas, my thumbs will never change, and, after years of hating them, I have accepted that they’re with me for the long haul. Occasionally, someone will ask me about them, but I can usually shrug it off.

I’m not a fan of them (as you can tell) but they are a flaw that has become a part of me. A small, toe-shaped part of me, that still more or less help me in all the ways thumbs are supposed to. I can’t bemoan them forever or waste time wishing that they were different, because they won’t change. I just have to accept them as they are and forge ahead, texting typos and gaming flubs aside.

They are only a hurdle if I let them be a hurdle. You have flaws, too – some you can probably change, and some you cannot. But they will only hinder you if you allow it.

Favorite Books and Films 2018 Edition!

Favorite books (in no particular order!)

1.) Nine Coaches WaitingMary Stewart
I cannot believe I knew nothing about Mary Stewart until this year. Set in the late 1950’s, this particular tale is about a sharp young governess named Linda who must protect the life of her charge Philippe, and how she becomes entangled in the dark secrets of an affluent family. Stewart is the master of the romantic mystery and this story is packed with suspense that kept the pages turning. I was engrossed in The Moon Spinners and The Ivy Tree, also.

2.) My Best Friend’s ExorcismGrady Hendrix
I… honestly, don’t even know how to describe this book except that it’s NUTS in the best way possible, so you should absolutely read it. Need something totally off the wall? Read it. Horror touched with drama touched with comedy? Read it. Frequent 80’s references? Read it. Just read it, okay?

3.) EligibleCurtis Sittenfeld
Of all the Pride and Prejudice re-tellings I’ve read – and there are many – this is my favorite. It gives the timelessness of the Darcy/Elizabeth relationship a unique, modern twist, though the development of their feelings for one other feels just like it does in the original, which is why it held such charm for me. It captures the same feel and hits the same important beats, just in a different setting and time period.

4.) The Black WitchLaurie Forest
I’m a sucker for a unique, fleshed-out fantasy world with believable characters and fresh ideas. And this series has all of that, plus some cool ideas about religion, faith, and race relations. You get fantasy, prophecies, and mystical beasts with a side of realistic, timely issues. What more could a reader want?

5.) NoteworthyRiley Redgate
This books is about a girl who masquerades as a boy in order to infiltrate an all-male acapella group at her boarding school. And it is fantastic. Unique characters with strong personalities, friendships and relationships you want to root for, an awesome and totally likable protagonist… this book is a whole lot of fun, and it explores interesting questions about gender and sexuality in a way I’ve not read before.

6.) The Midnight DanceNikki Katz
This book – about dancers caught in a wicked web, and a brave girl who wants to free herself from it – feels like a fairy-tale. It’s equal parts creepy, charming, compelling, and harrowing, and the protagonist, Penny, overcomes a lot of doubt and fear to uncover the mystery behind the boarding school she attends. I got sucked into this story quickly, and almost couldn’t put it down.

7.) The Walls Around UsNova Ren Suma
Another book that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let it go. Ghosts, delinquents, ballerinas, murder, psychedelic plants… and a twist ending that I did not see coming. If you need the taste of a little something different, I highly recommend this book. The writing is gorgeous and I read the last half of it in a straight-shot, I was so involved.

8.) Mortal EnginesPhilip Reeve
So… obviously, I was late to this party. But this story – about a futuristic world where cities move and devour one another – was a fantastic read. The characters are a high point, as they are well-developed in both their flaws and their strengths, and the adventure is exciting and unique. I live for a nice steampunk-esque tale with high stakes, high drama, and robotic bounty hunters.

9.) Radio SilenceAlice Oseman
A quirky contemporary YA tale that explores sexuality, friendships, loss, doubt, and the various trials of teen angst… all centered around a podcast. I hardly ever listen to podcasts, and yet, I was utterly charmed by this novel. Nuanced characters, clever dialogue, and timely messages.

10.) The Princess Diaries SeriesMeg Cabot
Again… late to the party. Especially considering Meg Cabot is one of my all-time favorites! I can’t believe I waited so long to read this series, because it is so, so good. Reading Mia’s story from beginning to end, all her angst, her triumphs, her spectacular wins and crushing failures, was the most rewarding reading experience of the year, for sure. Cabot’s writing is sharp, witty, evocative, and charming, as usual. I was genuinely emotional when I finished the last book; sad the story was over, but thrilled that I finally read it.

Favorite films (in order from least to greatest!)

*I am not including the first 6 films I saw, because one was included on my 2017 list (I saw TLJ twice) and the last five were all Oscar films that I saw too early into 2018. However, if they were included, Call Me By Your Name would still be the top!*

Honorable mentions: Eighth Grade, A Quiet Place, Christopher Robin, Annihilation, and Love, Simon.

10.) Hereditary
THIS IS HORROR DONE RIGHT, PEOPLE. I went into this film expecting it to be centered around symbolic, more realism-based horror, but… well… I don’t want to spoil it, but the premise blew my expectations out of the water, then beat them with a baseball bat, then set them on fire. This film subverts genre expectations and kept me on the edge of my seat. Toni Collette’s performance as a struggling matriarch is absolutely brilliant and I am really pulling for a Best Actress nom come Oscar season.

9.) A Star is Born
I went into this drama flick with fresh eyes, because I haven’t seen any of the previous incarnations. And I came out of it with teary eyes. Gaga and Bradley Cooper turn in stellar performances and manage to make a tired and overdone plot seem bright and new and full of emotion. And the new songs are fantastic – the reason I had misty eyes at the end is because of Gaga’s final song.

8.) Black Panther
Black Panther flipped the script on many a superhero trope and breathed new life and energy into Marvel this past year, and added major hype to Infinity War, which came out soon after. This film gave us Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye, three of the most badass Marvel women. Plus, it delivered the most impressive MCU villain to date in Killmonger, with the possible exception of Thanos himself. Wakanda Forever!

7.) BlackKklansman
I’ve been a fan of Spike Lee since Do The Right Thing, so I wasn’t about to miss this film when it was released this summer. This film is not only a stylistic triumph with an incredible soundtrack and brilliant performances, it is also able to blend the true story of Ron Stallworth – a black police officer who infiltrated the KKK in the early 1970’s – with themes that still exist in the world today. Lee is not afraid to make a point, and this film certainly proves that.

6.) First Man
I always appreciate a good biopic that doesn’t rely on sugarcoating and looks at all the tough parts of a person’s life instead of just the triumphs. First Man is a look into all the factors that made Neil Armstrong’s first miraculous step onto the moon possible, and an exploration of his occasionally turbulent personal life as he sought to touch the stars. The cinematography is striking – especially near the end of the film – and the performances are powerful.

5.) Ant-Man and the Wasp
I JUST REALLY LOVE ANT-MAN, OKAY? These are, without a doubt, the most underrated films in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. And now I love Wasp, too – she is so, so cool and I want to see her more in future films. This film harnesses the ridiculous, over-the-top fun of comics with the dramatic high-stakes that has come to define the MCU. And the giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser will never not be funny to me.

4.) Green Book
Based on the true story of an unlikely friendship, Green Book is an emotional, though at times humorous and heartwarming, exploration of race relations in the 1960’s. Though some might contend that the levity in this film is ill-placed when discussing such a serious topic and part of history, but there’s plenty of drama to balance it out, and an honesty to the film that keeps it from teetering too far in either direction. It helps that the two lead actors – Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali – have a fantastic chemistry when onscreen together. I could watch Viggo eat friend chicken and spew obscenities all day long.

3.) Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone, but it sure works for me! A creative look at a future where dogs are exiled to an island of a trash, and the story of a young boy who wants to find his beloved friend, stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs shouldn’t be flying under anyone’s radar. It’s funny, original, and gorgeous to look at. Though, if you aren’t a fan of quirky films, you might want to skip it.

2.) Aquaman
I am a big sucker for fantastic visuals… and damn, this film was gorgeous to look at, especially in IMAX 3D. Overall, this film was a cross between Tron: Legacy, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, The Little Mermaid, and Pacific Rim. Black Manta is so cool and I now want a Mera/Diana team up movie to happen. Though some of the plot gets muddled by too-lofty ambitions and the humor is hit or miss (bro humor and one-liners fall flat, at times) Aquaman is a wild ride and will hopefully play a key role in steering the DC universe back on track. And, no spoilers, but the final showdown is phenomenal! And if anyone was going to make Aquaman cool again, it was definitely Jason Momoa.

1.) Avengers: Infinity War
I mean…obviously.

2019 Writing Goals

I’ve seen this floating around on twitter, and thought I’d document my own personal writing goals for the new year in this week’s post. And so, when I inevitably feel myself slacking, I can look back on this post and hopefully give myself a good kick in the rear. When plans remain in a nebulous state, I have difficulty sticking to them, so I’m going to use this post as my reminder.

1.) Land an agent.
The loftiest, most important goal I’ve got for the year, and I’ve already been putting my all into the effort.

2.) Complete AT LEAST the first draft of another manuscript. Ideally, I’d like to finish more than that, but I’m hoping that a low bar will make it easier for me to achieve the goal, if not surpass it. And I fully intend to surpass it, but it’s contingent on outside factors I can’t predict at the moment.

3.) Outline THREE other major projects.
I am terrible about putting ideas down on paper/in Word when I first have them, or else I make note of them, but my notes are so vague I forget the original intention behind them. So, since I’ve got a lot of major plans rattling around in the ol’ noggin, I’m going to be better at making detailed outlines for my ideas so when the time comes to flesh them out, I’ve got the material on hand.

4.) Be more organized.
This is a general life thing (and my godmother got me an awesome planner for Christmas that I can’t wait to use) but also for writing. I’m pretty good about staying organized with my writing in general, but I want to really amp it up in the new year. Like… no more naming documents drtyugiojpk.docx and such.

5.) Stay positive.
I think it’s important to keep my chin up when it comes to writing and beyond. And y’all should, too.

Grinch

At my place of employment, I have earned the reputation of being a bit of a Grinch around this time of year. I’m not a “holiday spirit” person. I’ll wear ugly sweaters and watch the old stop-motion TV movie specials, like Rudolph or Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, but that’s about it.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve started having “Santa” visit our store on weekends during the holiday season, so kids can take pictures with him and tell him what they want for Christmas. Last year, my boss asked me if I wanted to be an elf during one visit, to which I replied, “I’d rather have my eyes pecked out by geese.” So, needless to say, I’ve never been the jolly assistant during these events.

Our “Santa” is actually an employee of our store, not an outside volunteer. It’s the same at all of our locations – we get a suit sent to us, and someone has to don the costume, fake beard, and red hat to play the role for a couple of hours on weekend afternoons in December.

We are lucky, though – because we’ve got a guy who looks exactly like Santa on our staff. He didn’t need the beard, the suit, or the hat – because he had his own already. He starts growing his beard out over the summer every year in preparation for the holidays. Even before we started doing “Santa” visits, he would come to the store in full Santa regalia on Christmas Eve and Black Friday, just to hand out candy canes to kids and wish them a Merry Christmas. His wife (who is also an employee) dresses as Mrs. Claus and helps him meet and greet with the kids, and walks faithfully around the store to make sure no wide-eyed believers are missed, even though she relies on a walker.

This guy works early mornings and does freight/stocking outside of his Santa shifts. I remember one morning – in August, no less – when a little boy saw him working out on the floor and gasped, “Santa!” He wasn’t in his suit (obviously,) but he genuinely looks like Santa, so he slipped into the role immediately, knelt down, and asked what the kid wanted for Christmas. The kid was thrilled, and his mom was so grateful that our employee played along without missing a beat. Well… even my cold, black heart grew three sizes that day.

Earlier this week, I asked him about how the last Santa visit went, and he told me about how a mom brought in her baby to sit on his lap. She’d been born premature, and despite being a few months old, was so small she was barely the length of his arm. I can’t imagine having to deal with things like that. Children who might be sick, or scared, with worried parents, or lofty hopes. But he handles it all in true Santa fashion – he treats the kids with respect, spreads as much joy as he can, and assuages their fears to the best of his ability.

I admire his dedication – besides being a loyal and hard-working employee, he and his wife give their all to being “Santa” and “Mrs. Claus” when winter comes along, all for the sake of the kids. They don’t have to do it – they do it because they want to. Even a Grinch like me can appreciate that, and recognize – in a world that, at times, seems very bleak – things, and people, can still give us hope and inspire us to do our best.

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

Get To Know Me

I know, I know – we all detested those ice-breaking “get to know you” games teachers forced us to play at the start of every school year. But, in an effort to connect with fellow #amwriting folks and bloggers, and because I tread the line between crippling insecurity and suppressed egoism, I thought I’d let readers know a bit more about me. So here’s some “get to know me” facts as we hover on the cusp of a new year.

 

1.) I am a proud Hufflepuff. Upon first meeting me, though, you’d probably peg me as a Slytherin.

2.) I work in the glitzy, glamorous world of retail management. I can dress a man for a formal event from head to toe in under fifteen minutes.

3.) I have a mild phobia of jewelry and other small, metallic things, like paper clips. I can touch them, but it stresses me out and I need to wash my hands approximately 16 times afterward.

4.) I collect movie posters and ticket stubs.

5.) My favorite poet is Walt Whitman, closely followed by T.S. Eliot. My favorite authors are too many to list, but J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Meg Cabot are permanently at the top.

6.) My first “writing” gig was a weekly comic I produced with two classmates in elementary school called “Barnacle Babies,” which re-imagined the characters of Spongebob Squarepants as babies. Sadly, no evidence of these comics remain.

7.) Similarly, I am a retired fanfiction author. I wrote the longest English-language fanfic for a particular anime fandom, and my stories remain online.

8.) I love all Studio Ghibli films, especially Whisper of the Heart and Howl’s Moving Castle.

9.) I used to write stories about a superhero hamster named “Hammer Hamster” and his sidekick, a gerbil named Fuzz. No evidence of this exists, which is probably for the better.

10.) I have read at least 100 books a year since 2015.

11.) I have a BA in English Literature and Film Studies from Western New England University. I graduated with the highest major-GPA in the English department. And yet, I thought the Underground Railroad was an actual train until 11th grade, so my intelligence level is debatable.

12.) I attempted to implement “Batman Shirt Tuesday” while at college, and failed.

13.) My real name is not Allie Frost, but my initials are the same.

14.) I would rather send 1000 emails than make one phone call.

15.) I once beat Final Fantasy X (on the PS2) with Wakka as my primary party member. He could kill almost anything with one hit. I don’t know how it happened, nor have I ever been able to replicate it.

16.) My favorite Pokemon is Alakazam, followed closely by Gengar.

17.) I used to be more of a Rochester girl, but now, a decade after reading both Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, I would give it to Darcy every time, hands-down.

18.) If I could belong to any Game of Thrones House, I would pick the Mormonts. Second choice is Tyrells.

19.) My travel goal is to venture to New Zealand for obvious, Hobbit-related reasons. If I happen to meet a dashing sheep farmer while there, that would be a bonus.

20.) If I could choose to be any animal, I would want to be a bear. 🐻 However, if I were suddenly transformed into the animal that resembles me the most, it would probably be a frilled dragon. 🐉 Cold-blooded and temperamental! (Kidding… maybe.)

 

Writing Techniques: Querying

This isn’t technically a “techniques” post, because, admittedly, I have very limited experience with this. So, instead, I’m just going to babble a bit about how my process with querying has been going thus far, so it will be a bit more personal.

I never attempted to traditionally publish I’m With You, though, in hindsight, I wish I had given it a shot. My confidence was festering in the gutter after my college graduation, and hearing about the horrendous odds of landing an agent as a fledgling writer didn’t boost my spirits. So when I heard about an indie publishing contest, I submitted I’m With You on a whim. Never queried an agent or anything.

But it’s over and done, and I’m attempting to query agents for my latest MS – a YA/Fantasy currently called Otherworlder about a girl named Evie teaming up with a pair of quirky talking animals in order to save her little sister from peril in a world full of magic. It took me a long time to get to this phase… not only because I’ve been working with editors, getting feedback, revising the MS over, and over, and over, and spending a lot of time tweaking my query materials and researching potential agents. But because I am a wuss.

Well… that’s not totally accurate. But I do, like many others, suffer from anxiety, which has prevented me from taking steps in my writing career and beyond. I used to be crushed by any and all criticism, and paralyzed with fear over the idea of rejection. It took me a long time to seek help for these issues (until I started developing ritualistic behaviors, which is a bit of a red flag) but I recently did so, and I’ve gotten a lot better in regards to handing my writing and general life stuff. Getting a proper diagnosis and learning how to handle it has done wonders – I’m not saying that as a sympathy grab, it’s just the truth. I still have bad days, but I’m improving.

Thus, I’ve drawn all the deep breaths I can manage and have at last begun to send out my queries. Of the 20ish I’ve sent out so far, I have gotten a rejection. It’s no great shock, but a few months ago, that would have destroyed me. I probably would have thrown in the towel immediately, even though I know virtually every author has been rejected at least once, if not multiple times. I literally used to have confidence as thin as a delicate, porcelain elephant figurine sitting on the mantle of an eighty-year-old woman named Ethel. Fortunately, I am now in a better mental state to handle rejection rationally. It’s going to happen, and I know that – but I need to take it, absorb it, use it as inspiration to do better, and move ahead. Keep going, and keep writing. Be Winston Churchill, and never surrender!

Send me all the positive vibes you can, fellow writers! And please feel free to message me with your own querying stories and suggestions! I’m working on my next MS in the meantime, but I’ll take all the support I can get, as I really want to share all of Evie’s fantastical escapades in Otherworlder with you.

 

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