Rose of Autumn

(I wrote this poem a few years back for an unfinished fantasy story that will likely never see the light of day. It’s about a woman who eventually became a queen,widely revered for her beauty and feared for her skill with an ax and her prickly attitude. I actually like how it came out, so I hope you enjoy!)

 

Amid fields and forests kissed with leaves of red and gold,
a flower grew, of whom so many stories have been told.
A Rose quite fair, with sunset hair and eyes of vivid green,
her heart so bold it seemed that she was destined to be queen.

She was taught to dance and sing, as any proper lady should,
her beauty flourished as she blossomed into womanhood.
But she was no dainty maid kept locked away up in a tower,
for she could wield an axe with grace to rival any flower.

Many journeyed ‘cross the land to gaze upon her face,
yet none who dared to seek her felt the warmth of her embrace.
But all the stories failed to tell the reason for their scorns,
for she was called the Rose not for her petals, but her thorns.

The first lord asked, and then the next, but all were turned aside,
no man could tame her wild heart and claim her for a bride.
Thus many souls fell victim to her brambles and her glares,
until the Rose of Autumn crossed the gallant Lord of Bears.

 

(This poem was intended to have a companion piece, entitled “Lord of Bears,” but I never actually wrote it – if you like this one, maybe I’ll give it a shot!)

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Why not both?

I’m sure y’all have seen the meme that has come to be known across the internet as “Why not both?” It looks like this, for the unfamiliar:

both.jpg

I think about it often, especially when I see debates over certain topics popping up across the internet, or in everyday life. There seems to be things that are regarded as “one or the other.” As in, if you like one, you can’t like the other, or you must determine which is superior.

For example, the ol’ Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate that’s been going on for ages. There’s no reason to pick one over the other, or determine which one is better. Because… why not both? I like both, and even if I prefer one over the other, I’m not pressed about determining which is “better.”

Same goes for film. There seems to be an ongoing general debate over movies that are more “blockbuster” type, geared primarily toward entertainment, against films that are marketed more as “art.” I don’t necessarily prefer one or the other, nor would I speak out against one in favor of the other. Because why not both?

Classic books/authors, like Dickens, Austen, Steinbeck, even Shakespeare, against the more modern fare on the shelves? Why not both?

Marvel vs. DC? Why not both?

Playstation vs. Xbox? Why not both?

Pokemon vs. Digimon? Why not both?

Hitchcock vs. Kubrick? Why not both?

Goku vs. Vegeta? Well, Goku obviously. But the “Why not both?” still applies.

Basically, the world is gray, not black and white… at least, that’s true most of the time. So the next time you’re thinking about deciding between two things, perhaps you should consider if the choice is even necessary at all. Because much of the time, it’s not a matter of one or the other… because, why not both?

 

Favorite Tropes

Writers are often advised to avoid certain tropes in their writing, but let’s face it… some tropes/cliches are unavoidable. And some are irresistible!

Tropes and cliches can be bad, don’t get me wrong.  They are dreaded and spurned for a reason. They can break a story and turn a reader away from a book or series completely. But tropes wouldn’t be so notorious if they didn’t work or appeal to readers in the first place. And if used effectively, they can ensnare readers instead of pushing them away.

As a writer, it’s vital to make a trope or common theme feel unique and fresh upon implementation, and to do it in a way that will attract readers. It’s about making a trope your own, if you will. So, as a reader… what are some tropes that are sure to draw me in?

Firstly, I love, love, love… love triangles. GASP! I know. I totally LOVE ‘EM. I know they’re controversial and lots of folks think they’re overdone, especially in YA, but I can’t get enough of them… as long as they are done well.

I don’t want a hero or heroine waffling between two flawless options. I don’t want to see two handsome dudes treating some girl like she’s a trophy to be won. No new girl in school draws the eye of a misunderstood loner, but his shy next door neighbor has always held a torch for him. I want real, grounded drama. Legitimate connections between characters. Angst that isn’t contrived. Complicated feelings that go beyond, “Oh, I like you….and I like you, too! UGH, life is so hard!” Something I can feel invested in – something with stakes, high tension, and characters with legitimate flaws that I care about. No Team ______ vs. Team _______.

And nothing pisses me off more than when a love triangle is resolved with literally no repercussions for anyone – like, some miracle perfect fourth person shows up at the 11th hour to save the rejected person’s broken heart and everyone lives happily ever after. I love a good HEA, but it needs to be believable, and there has to be some pain along the way. I also don’t like when one of the characters dies for convenience, so the protagonist doesn’t need to make a choice or whatever.

I also love like, “secret identity” stories, if that makes sense. Especially involving royalty of some kind. Royals hiding their station from their friends in order to appear normal, or to protect themselves from danger, or royals who don’t know that they’re secretly a prince or princess or whatever, then struggle to accept their identity once the truth is discovered. But, again, it needs to be convincing. There needs to be real emotional crisis. And if there’s going to be an HEA, it better be realistic! This one isn’t “royal” related, but to put the “secret identity” idea into perspective, my favorite manga of all time is Hisaya Nakajo’s Hana-Kimi, which is about a girl named Mizuki who masquerades as a boy and enrolls into an all-boys school in order to meet her idol, high-jumper Izumi.

I am also a big fan of “magical girl” stories, to borrow a manga/anime genre term for comparison purposes. This might not be a standard overdone trope, but I love a good series in the same vein as Sailor Moon or Card Captor Sakura. I love a bit of fantastical whimsy combined with female badassery – but I don’t like all series like that. On the literary side, I am always drawn to stories with protagonists that have a unique gift – like Suze’s ability to communicate with ghosts in Meg Cabot’s Mediator series – which ultimately leads to them solving mysteries, conquering evil, or what have you. A “unique gift” can be an ingredient into making a protagonist – especially a female – into a Mary Sue. But if an author can avoid that, and balance out the character, I’m hooked. A “unique gift” needs to basically be a blessing and a curse, and cause genuine conflict, or else it will fall flat for me. This is actually one I used in my own writing, as Remiel in I’m With You has a “gift,” which she perceives as a curse, and it spurs a major conflict and assists in delivering a theme… or that’s what I was going for, anyway.

I’m sure there’s more, but these are all I can conjure up at the moment… But I’d love to know the favorite tropes of my fellow readers/writers!

Best Picture Countdown #1: The Favourite

“I have sent for some lobsters. I thought we could race them and then eat them.”Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite (2018)

Of all eight films nominated for Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards, Yorgos Lanthimos’s semi-ridiculous period dramedy The Favourite impressed me the most. A thrilling combination of absurd comedy, stellar dialogue, and engaging, unique characters, The Favorite “re-imagines” authentic historical figures and events from the early 18th century, exploring the complex relationship between lifelong friends Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill and the unexpected arrival of a distant cousin who challenges Churchill’s place as the queen’s “favourite.”

MV5BOTA1MTY0MDYxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY5MTk2NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_The Favourite also features a dramatic duck race and a group of men hurling oranges at a naked dude. So, that’s the type of film it is. Yorgos Lanthimos’s visionary directorial style and the wry black humor of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – or, in this case, their cup of bowel-inflaming hot cocoa – but I found this enchantingly-bizarre film utterly riveting from start to finish. The dialogue in particular is a highlight, with historical speech patterns and trends interspersed with and influenced by current, more modern humor. It’s a jarring combination at first, but gives the film a comedic edge and a unique flair that sets it apart from the other nominees, especially because The Favourite also digs into the emotional, giving depth and motivation to the individual characters, and making their interactions all the more compelling, especially as the rivalry between Sarah and Abigail builds and tensions ignite to life-ruining proportions.

The film’s cast is led by a trio of prolific actresses – Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Lady of Marlborough, and Emma Stone as Abigail Hill – and their performances are a roaring success, considering each earned an acting nomination. Regina King seems to be the one to beat in the Supporting Actress category for her turn in If Beale Street Could Talk, but my personal choice is Weisz. Her sharp performance as Lady Marlborough, rife with cutting wit, simmering rage, and festering envy mixed with careful aloofness to mask buried pain blazes against Stone’s desperate, calculated Abigail Hill who seeks to do whatever it takes to reclaim her lost status. Stone is excellent as well, in a role very unlike her usual fare, but I think cast-mate Weisz just edges her out.

Colman dominates the screen as the often-hysterical, but oddly-lovable Queen Anne. Her performance as the troubled monarch, who led a life “stalked by tragedy,” is defined by a scene where she sits on the cusp of a party, all dressed up in finery yet confined to a wheelchair, and watches as her guests and courtesans dance and engage without her as the music swells through the room. That scene alone made her my favorite for the Best Actress race, as well as the scene of her explaining her “children” to Abigail. Nicholas Hoult also deserves a shout-out for his performance as Harley, where he is nearly unrecognizable in a powdered wig and full makeup. His interactions with Weisz and Stone are a major comedic plus.

This film, like many fellow Best Picture nominees, is “based on true events,” and much of it cannot be proven as accurate. However, The Favourite does not present itself as a “blow-by-blow” representation of history, nor does it market itself as a faithful representation. I don’t even think it says “based on true events” on any of the posters or taglines I’ve seen for the film, so I doubt it’s part of the marketing strategy. The people depicted in the film are real, as are several of the events surrounding it, but it never tries to convince the audience that any of it is true. And that is the best kind of historical adaptation. One that tells its own narrative influenced by reality without carelessly inserting potential defamation or pushing any sort of underlying agenda, and it makes the audience more interested in what the “truth” really is. Despite his masterful vision, director Yorgos Lanthimos is a bit of a dark horse in the Oscar race, but when it comes to a film this weird, anything can happen.

On the surface – which does matter when it comes to film – The Favourite is an all-around outstanding production. It’s gorgeous to look at; beautifully shot. The set design, the costumes, the lighting… in a scene where Stone’s character is covered in mud, I felt as though I could smell the stinking sludge on her clothes, or the beef slab being slapped onto Queen Anne’s ailing leg, or the scent of smoke when Weisz is practicing her aim. The footsteps tapping through the halls as the characters move about create both a sense of foreboding and anticipation. And the music is great, including several famous baroque and classical composers and what I believe to be a snippet from one of my favorite Camille Saint-Saëns symphonies, also prominently featured in Babe (1995). You know – the talking pig movie. Anyway…

The Favourite has earned glowing praise from critics and audiences, but when it comes to the ultimate battle on Oscar night, it faces brutal competition. Roma certainly seems poised to win, which would be a much-deserved victory. But for this viewer, The Favourite has emerged as top film for the Best Picture race, and even if it does not take home that treasured honor, I am predicting it will go 4 for 10 on the night, though I won’t protest to a couple more.

 

Oscar Nominations: 10
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actress (Colman)
Best Supporting Actress (Stone & Weisz)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing 

 

 

Hoping and Coping

After letting recurring depression/anxiety issues fester for the majority of my late adolescence and early adulthood, I have sought help over the past several months. I don’t want this to be a “woe is me” post, so I’m going to avoid delving too deep into the nature of those issues, but my mental state has impacted the decisions I make in life, and now, with assistance, I am seeking to make change. I am hoping to make change.

But making change is HARD. Especially when your life has been fairly stagnant, and your comfort zone has become a small, enclosed area that will be difficult to break out from. I recognize that it is something I must do, but some days, I doubt that I have the strength to do it. I have been working at the same place for ten years. I have lived in the same house for twenty-two, save for the 3 year period I was at college. There is very little variation in my life, day to day. While others have moved ahead, and progressed, I feel stuck in a fog. I have settled into a routine, and while it is mostly comfortable, and familiar, I don’t think I like it.

Since I don’t handle change well, I’m curious to know how others cope with it – and how others are able to inspire change in their life. My issues are possibly rooted in the fact that I also fear the unknown. When new possible scenarios pop into my life, my mind instantly latches onto all the things that could go wrong instead of all the potentially wonderful outcomes. One might say that I am prone to self-sabotaging behaviors and negative trains of thought, and I struggle to steer myself onto a more positive track once I start spiraling into all the “what ifs?”

When change is on the horizon, in my grasp, my first instinct is to pull away – and I don’t want to turn back anymore. I want to be excited by change, thrilled by the idea of moving forward, even if the road ahead is dark and my lantern casts only a feeble glow. I can’t rely on guarantees, wait for “sure things,” or respond only to certainty. It’s not even that I don’t like change – it’s that I find the whole process of change overwhelming, and sometimes, that’s too scary for me to overcome.

I know that change is often positive, and struggle leads to better things. I was terrified of going away to college, and really struggled with being away from home in the first months. I battled homesickness on a constant basis, struggled with making friends, hated both of my jobs, and didn’t feel like I belonged at school. I didn’t really connect with my core group of college friends until a study abroad trip after my first year. From then on, it became much easier to adapt, and I settled into a groove. But the whole process behind those changes was a challenge, and any time I think of going through difficulties like that again, my motivation stalls. It was worth it that time, yes – but is it always?

The question is – when you are prone to overthinking and doubt – how do you overcome those dark clouds looming overhead? How do you cope with change when you fear the unknown? I’d love to hear any insight.

Dark Blue

(TW: Death)

I was afraid of the deep end of the pool for most of my formative years.

I never passed level 3 swim lessons because I wouldn’t dive into the deep end of the pool. I would sit on the end of the diving board, cross my arms over my chest, and cry while my frustrated coach stood on the sidelines, begging me to take the leap and try. After about fifteen deadlocked minutes, she would relent, and allow me to crawl back to safety, clinging to the wobbly board as though it were my last link to salvation.

I didn’t know what was down there, lurking in the 12 foot-deep, chlorine-rich water. The water was much darker than the shallow end. The waves from jostling limbs made the water ripple like taunting laughter. The dark blue water was home to a monster—I wouldn’t even dangle my toes in it. It’s an almost comical twist that years later, I became the manager of my high school swim team in a desperate attempt to rack up some extracurricular activities for my college applications after a knee injury sidelined my athletic career for good.

I was out in the lobby drawing up timing sheets for the new head coach, so I didn’t see what happened. I didn’t see our coach pull her limp body from the pool. After the initial commotion, I slipped out the side door to flag down the oncoming ambulance, shivering as the biting flakes of the first snow of the year landed on my skin. Steam rose off the water as the November air clashed with the steamy humidity of the pool deck. It settled like a fog over the linoleum.

I only looked at her once. Her arms spread out crucifix-style. Her lips had turned blue. Dark blue, like the deep end of the pool.

I didn’t know her. Maybe I passed her in the hall once or twice, her face drifting along amidst a sea of other faces. I can’t even picture her because the only time I ever saw her was when she was laying on the slick tile of the pool deck and her lips were blue.

I don’t know if there is some sort of standard regulation to follow when something like that happens – if there is some code to abide by, when death abruptly snatches a seventeen year old girl out of the deep end of the pool. I don’t know what to say to people who are sobbing over the loss of someone. Over the next few days the swim team struggled to understand how their sanctuary had become a tomb, how someone so young could be whisked away so fast, and remembered how excited the girl had been to start her first year as a member of the high school swim team, and wondered how it could go so horribly wrong?

They sent one of those standard pre-printed letters home with us the day after, about how grief counselors would be available for kids to talk to, and friends were welcome to attend a memorial service and would not be penalized for missing classes. My mom asked me if I was okay (of course I was) and if I wanted to talk about it (I said I was fine). Because what was I going to say? That I have the image of a girl’s dark blue, oxygen-deprived lips stuck in my head?

What do you say when you don’t know how you feel? When you know that it doesn’t matter how affected you are by some traumatic event, because the fact of the matter is, a girl lost her life – you didn’t know her, and others are grieving around you and you are useless to help then and you don’t even have the right to grieve a loss that isn’t yours.

I didn’t say anything. I went to practice the next day, put in the lane lines, sat in the lobby and did my homework, and wondered how long it would take for the monsters in the deep end of the pool to go away.

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.

The Things We Connect With

When you read a book, what are the things you connect with? Are there certain factors that stand out to you more than others?

I read mostly YA, but I don’t shy away from any particular genre, and do stray into adult literature on occasion. For me, there are a couple of elements that leap off the page, and make it easier for me to connect with the story and characters. In regards to the latter, give me a good sarcastic sidekick any day. One who has more purpose than to crack jokes, but still excels at being a master of wit with a cutting edge. I like a best friend or ally who is not afraid to call the hero out on their problematic behavior, and has a whole, well-developed personality all on their own aside from being a sidekick. I especially love strong friendships in YA of any genre. I don’t want a romance story where a relationship becomes the protagonists’ sole focus/purpose, so friendships with a solid foundation are often a favorable complement to that.

When it comes to protagonists, I connect with their flaws. Give me a hero or heroine who is not always likeable, who makes questionable calls, or who makes mistakes that possibly inspire various degrees of calamity. When they have distinct, relatable, or plot-affecting flaws, I am more likely to connect with them. I don’t want to see a female protagonist whose only flaw is that she’s a bit clumsy, or is “too nice,” or some cop-out like that. Give me drama. Give me reasonable self-doubt.  I like it because it gives them more room for growth, as well. I especially like it when a hero/heroine has to fix a major problem that they cause, whether by accident or on purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like heroines who kick ass and are amazing with a sword… but because I don’t kick ass, I find it harder to personally connect to them.

Villain-wise, I need an antagonist who is more than just their bad deeds. Someone who actually has a point, but is going about it the wrong way. I mean, some villains are just evil to be evil, and that’s fine – but I prefer it when there’s a reason, and the reason has a solid explanation behind it. Or, sometimes I don’t even want a villain – it all depends on the story. Don’t give me an antagonist for the sake of it.

For example, some of my favorite series are The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and The Charmed Life series by Jenny B. Jones. They contain some of my favorite characters, and ones I have connected with the most. As much as I love a good serious drama/fantasy, it’s stories with humor that I am drawn into the most – hence Meg Cabot being my favorite YA author.

It’s a similar experience with films, though the things I connect with tends to differ. I’m drawn in by the typical things, like basic plot, genre, and acting prowess. But when I’m actually in the theater, it’s different things that snare my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still like snarky sidekick characters, occasionally-unlikeable protagonists, and conflicted antagonists. However, the things I connect with the most are more on a visual and auditory level.

I am compelled by strong cinematography/set design/production design. If a film is aesthetically pleasing to me, it has a higher change of connecting. Recent visually-inspiring films on my list include First Man, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and The Favourite. It’s also part of the reason why I will see any film directed by Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, and Zack Snyder. All-time favorites in the visual department include Tron: Legacy, Man of Steel, Crimson Peak, and Oblivion.

Another thing I connect with the most is the music. I need a soundtrack that is part of the film, not just the background. Composers who excel at this are Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, the Gregson-Williams brothers, and Ramin Djawadi. Also, who can forget John Williams? He’s the perfect example. You know the themes to Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park because they are so interwoven with and indicative of the film itself. When the score really suits the film, I am more likely to connect with it.

So, I have to ask – what are the things you connect with, whether it be in books or film?

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!

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