Bizarre School Memories

1.) Bag milk. Until second or third grade, my elementary school served individual milk bags during lunch. Which was fine, unless you stabbed them the wrong way. Then they exploded. We definitely had cartons by third grade, though, because I remember spilling one all over myself. I’ve heard that bagged milk is common in other parts of the world, though.

2.) At my junior high, you could get rid of gym demerits by showering after gym class. Like, if you forgot your uniform or missed a class at some point you could improve your GRADE if you took a shower. I’m sure this was for hygienic purposes, because they didn’t want students to stew in their own filth after working out, but I was blessed by the schedule gods every year and had gym class at or near the end of the day, and thus, never had to shower at the school. Because those showers were gross, and I was not stripping in front of my classmates. Swimming class was bad enough.

3.) BIG pencils. Do they still make young kids use those huge black pencils while learning to write? The ones with no erasers? I absolutely hated using them – especially when we got to the cursive unit – and I irrationally blame them for my poor handwriting to this very day. Speaking of which, do they even teach cursive any more?

4.) Gymnastics in gym class. Not only did we have a gymnastics unit every year until high school, we were forced to do a synchronized gymnastics routine with a partner in eighth grade. Which is cruel, really. Fortunately, I used to be (USED TO BE) pretty good at gymnastics. I just thought it sucked for the kids who weren’t flexible or necessarily skilled at somersaults or handstands. It’s not what I’d call a morale-booster of a sport. Then again, we also played dodge-ball, so…

5.) Square dancing in gym class. I’m not sure how many schools offer dancing of any kind as a unit, but since I live in an area known as Pennsyltucky, square dancin’ and line-dancin’ were a popular choice. I opted for Tai Chi, instead. I still remember the move “Parting the Horse’s Mane.” It’s become my signature party move.

6.) Bowling in gym class. This is the LAST gym class-related one, I swear. But since my high school was down the street from a bowling alley, we could actually take bowling as a unit. HOWEVER, if you sucked at bowling, you wouldn’t get a good grade, since your grade was your score. I took bowling twice, but due to a knee injury, I almost got stuck with a 54 in sophomore year. Fortunately, an excellent essay on duck pin bowling saved me from failure.

7.) Trash lockers. The cafeteria at my high-school was being renovated for like, 2 years. So, for a significant portion of my high school experience, we ate lunch in various classrooms and in the hallways. If you had an empty locker in an area where lots of folks ate lunch, you could end up being the unfortunate owner of a “trash locker.” Lots of students didn’t use their lockers (opting, instead, to carry all of their books in their backpack and thus developing severe spine problems) so folks would toss their trash into empty lockers after lunch. And then, when locker-clean out happened at the end of the year… well… it wasn’t pretty.

 

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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.

 

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.

 

Roll With It

On Wednesday night, November 14th, I looked at the weather forecast for my tiny pocket of PA for the following day. It said there would be a “dusting” of snow in the morning, but that it would fade to rain/sleet by the afternoon and travel would potentially be dangerous later in the day. I was scheduled to work 5AM-1PM on Thursday, so I assumed I would be fine to make the 20 minute commute home, brew some coffee, and settle down on the couch in comfy clothes to play Spyro Reignited.

Oh, how I was wrong.

Many of my fellow coworkers, scheduled the same shift, were none the wiser about the true elements outside… until a coworker left at noon, then came back to work because all the roads leading to where she lived were closed due to various accidents. I also live in that part of town, so my immediate reaction was “Well, shit.”

Though a few of my coworkers braved the icy-slick roads – many of whom had their short commute turn into a one to two hour ordeal – or had someone come to rescue them, I stayed put. My plans for the remainder of the day were thus ruined. I was starving, tired, and dreaming of caffeine. I had to buy snow boots and gloves because my own were at home. I was at work from 5AM to 5PM, helped a couple of coworkers clean the cold spawn of Satan off their cars. My little Nissan was never going to make it up the hills on my route home, so I hitched a ride with my boss who has 4-wheel drive and has to drive past my neighborhood in order to get to his home, so I wouldn’t be taking him out of the way. The broccoli-cheddar-chicken soup my mom made for dinner was the best meal I had ever eaten.

Many folks had it worse. There were several wrecks. A tractor trailer over-turned on a popular traffic route. As previously mentioned, one of my coworkers had to get hauled up a hill and got hit with a towing bill. One of my bosses had to go stay the night at a nearby hotel. My sister was stuck on the highway for 6 hours – my poor father was on the highway for 9 hours and 44 minutes, on what was meant to be an hour commute. And he still went to work at 6AM this morning, even though he slumped in the door at 11 last night.

When dealing with the fickle temperament of Mother Nature, things don’t always go according to plan. But all you can do – no matter how much you don’t want to – is roll with it. And maybe, once it’s all over, move to Hawaii. If we get another November squall like this one, I think I might just do that.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Inaccurate

Historical films can be tricky for viewers – a fact I realized after watching the 1989 miniseries Cross of Fire, starring John Heard and Mel Harris, about the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer by D.C. Stephens, a prominent K.K.K. leader, in 1925. After viewing the film, my history teacher destroyed me by saying that the valiant lawyer in the film, Klell Henry (David Morse), did not actually exist. And thus, my frequently conflicted opinion on historical/biopic films was born.

I make sure, after viewing a historical drama or biopic, that I research the topic afterward to see what the film got wrong. Not because I want to nitpick the movie and rip it to shreds, but because I want to know the truth. At the very least, even inaccurate films can open the door to further interest and research in certain topics. But when adapting delicate subjects, films bear a lot of responsibility with what they portray… and many have fumbled that opportunity.

There is nothing worse for me, regarding historical dramas, than going on to research the true events of a film and finding out that important details have been manipulated, botched, ignored, or misrepresented, because it feels like being cheated out of what could have been an amazing story. Though, many films so deserve credit for introducing audiences to topics or events that they might not have cared about otherwise.

Of course, it is impossible to adapt any historical event into film with perfect accuracy. The very idea is ridiculous. But when you’re playing with real events, real people – especially people who have passed on, and cannot offer a voice themselves – and real world issues, there is a difference between taking creative liberties, and presenting what is essentially a revisionist history. I mean, don’t even get me started on Pocahontas. I thought that shit was true until like, eighth grade. The soundtrack is a banger, though.

Though I’ve always been a fan of Queen, I’d never purport myself as a massive, die-hard fan, so I went into Bohemian Rhapsody with a partial knowledge of both Freddie Mercury and the band’s history… but even with my limited scope, I was scratching my head at a few of the events shown in the film. For example, the first meeting between Mercury and his long-time partner Jim Hutton, and the band’s implosion due to Mercury’s intention to launch a solo career – among numerous other changes, as noted in the many scathing reviews I’ve since seen scattered about the internet.

Without spoiling anything major about the film, Bohemian Rhapsody – though buoyed by the (obviously) brilliant soundtrack and an electrifying, perhaps career-defining performance from lead actor Rami Malek – shoehorns truth and history and fudges timelines into a formulaic, painfully stereotypical portrayal of a band’s bumpy rise to triumph, and the turbulent life of its legendary front man while barely scratching at the surface of Queen’s revolutionary influence on the music industry, and Mercury’s enduring legacy as one of the most iconic voices of all time. It seeks to cover the rough edges with a glossy sheen, to be a Mercury biopic, a Queen documentary, and fictional drama all in one. As a result, the film never delves as deep as it should, especially into Mercury beyond the stage, into his personal life and personal struggles.

It’s a shame, really, that “based on true events” has been skewed by egregious insertions of “drama” that never happened in real life, often invented to make the film fit a standard “storyboard” format. You don’t need “dramatic effect” when the true story is already so compelling. You don’t need manufactured tension, fake squabbles, fictionalized personalities, and a standard “rising action, falling action, climax, resolution” plotline when you are relaying a story that is interesting enough to carry itself. Sure, the watered-down, sanitized portrayal with a near family-friendly PG-13 rating will probably garner more ticket sales, and get a few casuals more invested in the band’s music. But it makes the film, though perfectly serviceable entertainment-wise, disingenuous. It’s not the film that Mercury – or Queen – deserve. Though, again, Malek’s performance is extraordinary, and it was worth seeing the film for that alone. And it is entertaining, so I’m not trying to deter anyone from seeing it.

I’m not going to go into detail about the inaccuracies, because a ton of reviewers and articles have covered it much better than I could, so here’s ScreenRant’s comprehensive list. But beware of spoilers!

pocahontas_2.jpg
ALL LIES 

This is far from the first instance of this in cinematic history. As referenced before, Pocahontas (and the sequel, which I prefer to pretend never happened) is a big offender, because it creates a love story where there wasn’t one, and sugarcoats historical events in a disillusioning manner. Braveheart, too. And The Patriot. Now, that doesn’t mean they are bad movies, because they aren’t. I actually really love The Patriot and have seen it several times. But they are bad historical movies. And, ironically, all of them feature Mel Gibson…but that’s another story.

This phenomenon of inaccuracy in films makes it all the more baffling when films like Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan receive widespread acclaim for their historical accuracy regarding the events of World War II… because the characters in both films didn’t exist. I suppose that gives them more freedom, when they aren’t profiling the histories and lives of actual people, but it also makes their success more compelling, and perhaps allows them to focus more on the finer details. Grave of the Fireflies is also a highly-praised film for dealing with the effects of WWII on the Japanese – if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, though you’ll need tissues. And then, on the flip side, you get Pearl Harbor and Red Tails, which inject needless drama into real stories that were interesting enough without it.

It is, no doubt, challenging to achieve a credible level of accuracy in historical dramas, period dramas, or biopics. Not all stories fit a cinematic formula, so adapting them does require some creative liberties in order to appeal to audiences and critics alike. But it is not impossible to do so while also being respectful of those who lived through actual events being portrayed, knew of or are related to real people whose stories are being shown onscreen, and without eschewing truth in favor of drama. Audiences don’t need to be shielded from unpleasant truths, they don’t need to be shown a cookie-cutter plot, “based on a true story” should not be an afterthought, and entertainment does not need to smother historical accuracy.

Anyone else have a “Klell” moment, like I did? If so, which historical film or biopic is your biggest offender for ignoring the truth or creating a revisionist history?

 

Tis the Season!

Once again, my dear friends and readers… it is holiday time. Ho, ho, ho, jingle bells, silent night, yada yada yada.

As you may or may not know, I am currently employed full-time in the wonderful, if occasionally soul-crushing world of retail. Also, I recently received a promotion, so this is my first holiday with this elevated level of responsibility. The pressure is on, and I’d be lying if I didn’t find it a bit daunting. Especially since, for a variety of reasons, Christmas is shaping up to be a significantly more monstrous beast this year than in years previous.

In order to keep my novel writing alive for the next few months, I am going to be posting on this blog only once a week, from November until January, just like last year. I will maintain the Friday slot, but Mondays will not resume until the holiday burst is over.

There will be a post this coming Friday, 11/2. Thank you for understanding!

 

Guilty

When the well of inspiration runs dry, there are a few methods that I utilize to get myself back on track. I have mentioned a few in previous posts, but I must admit, I have one trick that also counts as a “guilty pleasure” of sorts…

When I get stuck, and the creative juices simply won’t flow, I turn to someone named Taylor. Of course, I mean Taylor Swift. And not “Look What You Made Me Do,” T-Swift. I mean old-school, with a few 1989 selections sprinkled in thereAs someone who is more of an indie/folk/punk/rock person, who also dabbles in film/video game OSTs and Asian pop music, Taylor Swift is not someone you would expect to find on my playlist. It doesn’t jive with the image I project, let’s say.

But there’s something about her old music that gets me. “Enchanted” is probably my all-time favorite, but I’m also partial to “Red” and “Forever and Always.” The lyrics are simple, but strong and thoughtful. The melodies are catchy and assist in carrying the message of each song. They’re good songs. And for some reason, they connect with my psyche enough to give me a boost when I need inspiration.

When my standard lineup of MCR, Mumford & Sons, Bear’s Den, First Aid Kit, Aurora, etc, fails, I turn to my friend Taylor. Even though this method fits the description of a “guilty pleasure,” who am I to care? As long as it works, old-school T-Swift shall remain a beacon of motivation in my iTunes.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

The Sky is Blue

After being discouraged from taking an art class while in high school, I decided to use one of my electives in college to take a Drawing course. I had always enjoyed art, so it seemed like a good choice to expand my skills and learn new techniques.

Long story short, I hated it. But I did learn one vital lesson, on the very first day of class, that I shall carry with me always.

This drawing course was taught by an eccentric artist. I imagine most of them are. She was almost like a caricature of an art teacher. Crazy hair, random statements, hyper-criticism of any art style that didn’t suit her preferences, and she occasionally wore her sweaters backwards. I’m sure she was a lovely woman outside of a classroom setting, but, to be totally honest, I don’t even remember her name because I must have blocked it from my memory out of sheer hatred for that class.

This professor also often accused me and my fellow students of not accurately “seeing” things, which made our artistic reproductions of fruit bowls or trees lackluster. She would lob us lofty musings, such as “It might look like a tree, but what do you really see?” and “You must look beyond the apples and oranges, and see the truth.” We began to suspect that we were the unwitting subjects of an elaborate sociology experiment. Alas, we were not.

I mean, I’m all for art. I’ve been to the Tate Modern twice. But this class made me never want to pick up an oil pastel or colored pencil ever again. She did have a point, though. Seeing is not always seeing.

On the first day of class, we sat outside on the grass in one of the campus courtyards. We had our pristine white sketchpads and unpeeled pastels at our sides. And our professor told us to look up at the sky, and describe what we saw. We did, unsure of what the point of the exercise was meant to be. We saw blue. On that day, it was cloudless blue. Of course, the answer was more nuanced than that.

She told us that yes, the sky is blue. But it is not one single shade of blue. I stared up at one patch of sky, and realized that it was comprised of several shades. One vast mural painted in a thousand, maybe a million shades. I had never noticed it before; how many different blue fragments make up even one little section of sky. I saw the sky every single day and never once realized the truth in it’s beauty. And in that moment, I was amazed.

I never managed to channel that kind of brilliance in my artwork – I mean, I only had 2 shades of blue in my palette – but it’s a lesson I never forgot. Look closer to see the truth. And I try to apply that lesson to my writing, now. Dive below the surface, and make readers examine the depths for new meaning.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

A Glimpse….

It’s been two years since my YA novel  I’m With You came out, and though I hope to have my next YA/Fantasy novel out soon, I feel like I haven’t shared anything about my next project other than some vague comments. So, here’s an excerpt from the MS in its current state – obviously, since I’m querying and going through the next phases, nothing is set in stone and it is subject to change.

Not providing any context, though. Enjoy this little glimpse!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Okay.” I draw a deep breath and stand. “Let’s go.”

Vigo grins, but Lark’s mouth falls open. “You can’t be serious, Evie!” she shrieks, following me out of the room and down the hall. Vigo pads along behind us, his claws clicking on the hardwood. “You can’t go off to some other world—the otter just said it’s dangerous!”

“Which is why I can’t leave Becca there.” I throw the door to my bedroom open. Vigo scampers between my legs while I dump the contents of my schoolbag on my bed and start dashing between my bedroom and bathroom, grabbing whatever items might be useful on an expedition to another world. Somehow, I doubt I’ll need my hairdryer…

“But…but…” Lark watches as I fling drawers open, yanking clothes out and chucking them in the direction of my bed, though most miss the mark. “You wouldn’t even go camping with Reo and me when we were kids! This is like, a thousand times riskier!”

“Far greater than that, I would wager,” Vigo says, which is comforting.

Lark sticks her chin out. “Then I’m coming too.”

Vigo grimaces. “I cannot allow it, Miss Lark. Otherworlders are mistrusted where I come from—even more than mages. The fewer who pass through the portal, the better.”

Lark grants him a death glare that sends him scuttling beneath my desk.

“But… how am I going to know if you’re okay?” Lark’s tough-girl façade begins to crack, revealing genuine concern. “You can barely navigate your way around a mall!”

In my defense, it was only one time, and Victoria’s Secret was difficult to find.

“Lark, what choice do I have? Becca is my sister!” Storming emotions rattle my voice, but my resolve is galvanized. I shove some toiletries into my bag, which is now so bloated I doubt I’ll be able to carry it for long. “Besides—it’s my fault she got taken in the first place.”

“Evie, this is ridiculous! You can’t do this by yourself. What if you need help?”

“I’ll call if I get into trouble, Lark.”

“You think you’re going to have reception in an alternate world?”

Vigo emerges from his safe haven. “I will ensure that Evie is able to contact you. I have never attempted inter-world magic, but a sertio spell should work.”

“A serti-what?” Lark asks.

“A communication spell,” Vigo elaborates, as though the answer is obvious. “Quite simple. Even a novice can perform one.”

“Yeah, Lark. Even a novice can perform one.” My pitiful attempt at humor inspires no laughs.

“But…” Lark’s insistence flounders. “But…”

I take a break from my frantic packing to place firm hands on Lark’s shoulders. If the roles were reversed, and she was the one barreling down some unknown and unsafe path, I’d feel the same way. Although, I’m not sure she’d even attempt to save Reo from otherworldly peril.

“Lark, you need to trust me. Please.”

She stares at me, hard, determining whether or not to believe my bravado. After a moment of strained silence, her shoulders sag. I must look more confident than I feel.

“Fine, I get it—but swear to me, Princess.” Lark’s voice is steel. “The next time you go off on an adventure to another world, I get to come along.”

“Deal,” I agree, only because I assume one “adventure” will last me a lifetime.

Her eyes narrow. “Swear it.”

“I swear!”

“Swear it on Lea Salonga’s voice!”

I raise one hand. “I swear on Lea Salonga’s voice.”

“Good.” She sticks her nose in the air. “You have my blessing.”

I throw my arms around her, and she squeezes me with an urgency that nearly brings me to tears, partly because she’s crushing my spleen.

“Cover for me?” At least with fall break, we don’t have to worry about school for the time being. This little sojourn to another world likely won’t qualify as an excused absence in the eyes of school administration.

“Give me some credit, Evie.” Lark snorts. “What are best friends for?”

“I mean it, Lark—you can’t tell anybody. Especially not Reo.”

“Oh, please. Reo is the last person I’d tell. I’ll cook up a story, don’t worry.”

It’s reassuring to know that I can always depend on Lark, no matter how absurd the request is. This one has definitely rocketed to number one on the top ten list, and I doubt anything will ever top it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks for reading!

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