Unexpected

When I was in 6th grade, my classmates and I participated in a program at a place called Exchange City. Basically, we were to apply for jobs, learn how to interview, and, once our positions were secured, we went on a field trip to a makeshift “city” set up where we were told to run our businesses and do our jobs and try to make a profit. I suppose this was to prepare us for the “real world,” and it was a very cool and valuable experience overall. I only wish we could have done a more advanced version later on, maybe during senior year of high school.

When we were deciding what jobs to interview for, I narrowed it down to three – the total number we were permitted to interview for – and though I don’t remember the third, the two main ones I wanted were Postal Worker and Environmental Control Agent. I desperately wanted the latter, and was eager to interview for it. I could imagine myself strolling along the carpet streets of the Exchange City facility, ensuring that everything was going well. To be honest, I don’t really remember what the job entailed, all I know is that I REALLY wanted it. I pinned all my hopes on that job.

The 6th grade teachers got teachers from other grades and parent volunteers and other school staff to act as interviewers. I don’t recall interviewing for whatever the third job was, but the Postal Worker interview was with the mother of a boy in my class, held in the instrumental practice room. I had dressed up for the day, and even wore a skirt despite the fact that my usual wardrobe at that point in my life was full-on workout gear, complete with sweatband.

I answered her questions honestly, treated it like a normal conversation, explained why I was the best for the position, and wasn’t overcome by nerves. I walked out of the room content that I had done a fair job and represented myself well, but since that wasn’t the job I dreamed of, I didn’t think too much about it afterward.

Then, it was time to interview for the Environmental Control Agent position. I was wracked with nerves, and I don’t even remember who it was with, it passed in a blur. I was so anxious to impress, I stumbled over questions and my knees shook the whole time. I left the room rattled, but still held faith that I had done enough to earn the job. I stuttered, but got my point across.

After some days of deliberation, our class received our jobs – the ones we would maintain for the duration of our time at Exchange City. I waited for my slip, fully expecting to see “Environmental Control Agent” at the top. That is, until a girl in my class proudly exclaimed from across the room that she had gotten it instead.

I was crushed. I couldn’t fathom doing the assignment as anything else. In retrospect, it was a school assignment and not a real job, so there was no reason to be upset. But I was twelve, so, everything was a big deal those days. Obviously, I hadn’t impressed during my interview, and someone else had deserved the job instead. I’d let myself down.

Eventually, I got my slip. I took a minute to open it, trying not to be upset over losing out on my dream position. And at the top of my assignment was the position: Postmaster. Not Postal Worker, which was the position I applied for. Postmaster. I had not only knocked my Postal Worker interview out of the park, I’d done so well they gave me an even better job!

Just like that, losing out on the other job didn’t seem to matter any more. I still succeeded, but in a way that was a little… unexpected. And I made the best of it, selling candy-grams and other letters when it came time to perform my duty, making sure the Postal Worker delivered them all on time. I did have to buy us out of debt at the end of the day at Exchange City, but still, I had a great time and I loved the job I was given, even though it wasn’t the one that I originally wanted.

To this day, I have no idea what an Environmental Control Agent does. But I do still look for the positives, and my successes, in places and situations that might not be expected.

 

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.

Reawakened

So, I’m going to be honest for a second. I’ve been in a bit of a slump when it comes to writing.

It happens. It’s not an unusual phenomenon for writers and other creative folk. Except this time, none of my go-to methods for sparking inspiration have worked. I sit down to write and… nothing happens. I plan out the time to write, and… nada. I saw a great movie, came home and… nope. I felt like I was trying to force myself, and any time I sat down at my laptop, my brain became mired in fog. The crap weather is certainly a contributing factor, because winter is terrible for my mood, but it seems the well of inspiration has frozen over, and I couldn’t make it thaw.

I needed a “eureka!” moment, to crack the ice and make my fingers feel like typing again, to make the wheels in my brain churn out some new, fresh ideas. Nothing seemed to work, until a package arrived at my doorstep on Tuesday – an item that I pre-ordered four years ago. The much awaited PS4 game known as Kingdom Hearts III, which I previously spoke about in this post. The end of an era had arrived by post, and I immediately popped it in and sat down to play as snow softly fell to the ground outside.

And… “Eureka!”

20190129_144122.jpgAs soon as the opening cinematics played, I felt my chest swell with excitement, and the negative cloud in my brain evaporated. The music, the characters, the incredible graphics, the smooth game-play, the whimsy of Disney magic melded with the fantasy of Square Enix, all combined into one thrilling nostalgia bomb that overwhelmed my senses. Needless to say, I’ve logged 23 hours in 3 days. I’m well into the game, and absolutely loving it so far – which is big, considering I was very skeptical of the decision to include Pixar worlds. But, I must admit… KH is close to my heart, so it’s no surprise I was drawn in immediately.

And maybe that was all it took. I feel the itch to write again, and new ideas trickle through my head while I’m playing. Of course, I’ve been too busy plowing through Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed to actually flesh those new ideas out, but, at the very least, I’ve been able to make note of them to come back to when the game is done. Which, at the rate I’m going, will be soon. But the gears are churning, and I don’t stare at my Word documents with dread anymore, so all I needed was a little help from Sora and co.

Anyone else ever had an “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moment after a long creative drought? I’d love to hear about other instances of reawakened inspiration from fellow writers, or other creative minds!

Just in Case

I don’t know if there is an official name for something like this, but I have come to realize that I suffer from a syndrome that I refer to as “Just in Case-itis.” This affliction often goes hand-in-hand with a plague of “What if?”s.

I am incapable of packing for anything – be it a weekend trip, an overnight, or a week-long vacation somewhere – without packing several miscellaneous items that I might end up needing. And about 85% of the time, I don’t need them, but I am comforted by the idea that I do have those things if needed.

For example, I always carry a spare pair of socks in my bag. Because you never know when it could rain. This has actually come in handy more than once, and I actually lost a few pairs due to lending them out to my peers who forgot to bring socks for gym class in high school. I also have about 17 hair ties, band-aids, a book, 6 pens, a journal, an emergency granola bar for sudden bouts of hunger, and 2-3 chargers for various devices in my bag at any given time.

As a rule, I keep a spare change of clothes in the trunk of my car, and an “emergency kit” complete with spare toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, soap, and other hygienic necessities, because you never know when you’re going to get stranded somewhere. I also have a blanket, a car emergency kit, an umbrella, two ice scrapers, winter boots, and a spare winter jacket. You will never catch me unprepared for an unexpected weather disaster.

Whenever I travel somewhere, I bring at least 3 extra full outfits. So, if I’m going away for two days, I pack five outfits. If I go away for longer than a week, I more or less bring my entire wardrobe. This has also saved my life on more than one occasion, as the last time I traveled, I spilled coffee all over one of my outfits, and thus needed at least one extra outfit. I also tend to prepare outfits for unexpected scenarios – like, I’ll bring a formal outfit, just in case a surprise fancy dinner ends up in my schedule. This has never happened, but I like to be prepared. You’ll never catch me unawares!

I like to think my preparedness could rival the boy scouts, but most of my preparedness is for events that are unlikely to happen, simply because I can’t shrug off the “what if?s.” What if it snows? What if I get invited to a premiere? What if I accidentally fall in the ocean? What if someone is wearing the same shirt as me and I’m forced to change in order to avoid an accidental twinning moment? If there is a potential emergency brewing on the horizon, I want to be prepared for it.

Does anyone else suffer from “Just in Case-itis” or something similar? Do you also over-prepare for unlikely scenarios and have a full, bloated suitcase for a 1-2 day trip? Vacationing in the sun and heat, and yet, you feel compelled to bring a heavy sweatshirt along in your bag? I’d like to know!

Five Life-Changing Reads

Every avid reader has a favorite book or two… or seventy-six. But some of those notable or obscure titles can be life-changing. So, here’s a list of some of the books that have changed my life – not only as a reader, but as a person!

1.) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Most folks probably think of the classic Disney movie when they hear the name ‘Peter Pan,’  but my first thought is always the book. This book was my first foray into a magical, multi-faceted fantasy world that explores joy and sorrow, light and shadow, happiness and fear. It captures both the wonder – and terror – of eternal childhood, of being terrified of losing something, and the bittersweet nature of fleeting youth against the inevitability of growing up. I realized, the first time reading this book, that the “never” in “Neverland” can be interpreted either as wondrous and whimsical, or grim and dour – or maybe a mix of both. I love a fairytale-esque story with a twist of something dark, and Peter Pan was the gateway book for me. The dual-nature of this book is encompassed in one of its most iconic lines, as said by the titular character himself: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

20190121_104043.jpg2.) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – I’ve never been a poetry person… rather, I wasn’t until I took a Major Authors course on Walt Whitman my second year of college. I immediately connected with his poems, especially the titular “Leaves of Grass,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” and “Great are the Myths.” Whitman’s poetry, though written in the mid-late 1800’s, has a universality to it, a timeless quality that can be applied to scenarios and events throughout history and around the world, not only those that occurred in his lifetime.. His poems and the themes he presents are personal and profound, passionate and playful, perceptive and piercing. His poems make me think and feel, to apply his words to my own experiences, and I could pore over this book for hours pondering the meanings of his poems and imagining what his life was like. I recently bought a beautiful copy of this collection (pictured) and it’s got a place of honor on my shelf.

3.) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m going more in-depth this time around. This is the first book I ever read (followed a few years later by Native Son by Richard Wright) that made me realize why people were drawn to communism/socialism/unions during the Industrial Revolution in America. It was jarring to read about what conditions were like for workers, especially immigrant workers, in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, as researched by muckraker author Sinclair. If you have a rosy view of what America was like during that time, building itself up from fields to cities and growing into the capital giant we are today, prepare to have your image shattered by The Jungle. I was assigned to read it for a class and put it off until the last minute, then plowed through the whole thing in one sitting because I was so engrossed. This was my first real wake-up call that American History wasn’t always blue skies and valiant victories… there are plenty of dark clouds and shameful secrets that, though hard to acknowledge, are important to our nation’s identity.

4.) Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid – I read this book for my senior seminar class in college, which focused on Caribbean literature. The entire class was an eye-opening experience, but I had to do a presentation on this novel, so I got to dive a bit deeper into it than the others we read. This book was my first time reading a coming-of-age novel about a girl from a background/life/place so completely different from my own. Growing up on Antigua is nothing like growing up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. And yet, it’s still possible to find universal threads woven into the unique, deftly-told narrative. At times, my heart swelled for Annie – and, at times, my heart shattered for her. Themes of depression, separation, mother/daughter relationships, growing up, and colonization are all expressed in a timeless and powerful fashion, centered around Annie, a complex and beautiful character. If you’ve never read a book like this, I HIGHLY recommend it.

5.) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – I mean… this book/series has probably changed every fantasy writer’s life, right? It’s THE pinnacle of high fantasy, and will never be topped. It’s just so, so… brilliant. Sure, the language and descriptions can be burdensome, at times… but it’s worth the journey, all the way from Bilbo’s first fateful meeting with Gollum in the bowels of the Misty Mountain to Galdalf’s epic “You cannot pass,” to Sam’s final line of “Well, I’m back,” as he greets his daughter and wife. LotR is the reason I want to write fantasy, and so, it has changed my life for the better.

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.

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.

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.)

 

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!

 

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.