All posts by Andra M.

Remembrances?

Right now the internet is abuzz with personal remembrances of 9/11 twenty years ago.

I’m usually not one who goes with the crowds on any holidays (so-called). Maybe it’s due to my natural tendency to avoid what the majority is doing. Why add my voice to similar voices when it’ll only get lost in the multitude?

After all, my experience that day isn’t much different from most everyone else’s. The shock, the disbelief, the heart-stopping realization that our world isn’t safe and that we had enemies willing to kill themselves in order to kill us.

Yet we also tend to forget when life returns to normal—or at least adapting to incremental changes in our day-to-day lives so adeptly we still call it “normal.”

For instance, twenty years ago, we didn’t have to arrive at the airport a minimum of two hours before the flight for the privilege of figuratively (and sometimes literally) stripping down before stepping foot on a plane. Now it’s simply a part of our “normal.”

We stepped (and often willingly) into a world where everyone is assumed to want to harm others, and we must prove through metal detectors, x-ray machines, and secret courts that we have no such intention.

We’ve decided to distrust others until they prove themselves otherwise. The whole issue with the thing-that-shall-not-be named going on today has taken that distrust even further.

What other freedoms and liberties have we lost or willingly relinquished in the last twenty years and have convinced ourselves we no longer want or need? And how many others will we give up in the next twenty? I honestly shudder to think…

Delighting at Funerals

I may not do death well, but I can’t help but find delight in funerals.

I know it sounds strange if not cold or even cruel. Why would I delight over such a somber event when people are grieving and taking a final moment to say goodbye to a loved one?

As with my previous entry, it’ll all make sense by the end.

Let’s start with my Mamaw’s funeral (my grandmother on my mother’s side).

She loved animals. I didn’t know how much until we went out to eat for Thanksgiving. We passed a park with hundreds of Canada geese loitering in the grass. She nearly squealed and said, “Look at all those geese! I love geese!”

I smiled to myself at her joy, but also at my mom’s annoyance. She hated geese, because their house was in their twice-annual migration path and as such had to wade through a lot of goose poop every spring and fall.

Mamaw died less than a month later.

At her internment in a veteran’s cemetery where she was laid to rest with her first husband, there was a small park behind us with a pond. Neither my husband nor I could hear the pastor, because the geese behind us were squawking so loud. I hid my laughter in my husband’s shoulder and told him later, “I couldn’t think of a more perfect eulogy than that.” He said that he hid his own laughter thinking the same thing.

I believe Mamaw would have laughed right with us.

A few days ago was the funeral for my friend who lost her husband last week. I was pleased to see the parking lot and nearby street so full with friends and family. It gave me a clue as to how many people loved him. For me, I had only met him once, so I knew next to nothing about him other than he adored his wife, and she him.

So during the time when people could stand up and tell their favorite stories about him, I got to peek into the love and intimacy of his friend and family relationships. I found it both an honor and a privilege to witness it.

It was, in a word, delightful.

Doing Death Well

The title of my entry is a bit strange, but I think by the end of this entry it’ll make sense.

Everyone has their blind spot, something they can’t wrap their mind around no matter how many times they face it. They watch how others react to that particular circumstance seemingly without effort, and all they can do is scratch their head (figuratively or literally).

For me it’s what to do when someone dies or when a friend loses a loved one. I’ve lost both my parents within eighteen months of each other. Because I’m good at compartmentalizing my emotions, I set my grief aside and did what needed to be done and in as short of time as possible. Luckily my sister and I were on the same page throughout the entire process, so we completed almost everything for both our parents within weeks. Our dad’s girlfriend (our parents had divorced a few years earlier) was shocked at how efficiently we took care of our dad’s estate. I’m sure she thought we were a couple of gold-digging vultures when that wasn’t the case at all. It’s who we are; it’s who our parents were. They wouldn’t have wanted us to become blubbering piles of goo when there was work to be done. Our efficiency was a testament to our love and respect for our parents, because that’s how they raised us.

Even before then, though, death to me is a part of life. Sure I miss my parents, but I know I will see them again. Maybe if I wasn’t a Christian I would feel differently. Although… I kind of doubt it. If I were an atheist, believing nothing exists past this life, and I and everyone else ceases to exist the moment we take our last breath, it simply is what it is.

Nothing is ever gained by dwelling on things we can’t control.

Yet I also know my point of view is rather unusual. People grieve much more poignantly than I ever will, and for grief to no longer overwhelm can take months if not years. I don’t consider that a weakness, by the way. It’s merely a different way to process such a deep loss that I can’t embrace for myself. I’m not built that way.

If anything, I’m the weak one when it comes to dealing with death. My lack of true, emotional empathy makes me appear cold and unfeeling. It’s frustrating, because I want to be able to empathize and therefore know exactly how to respond when someone else faces a great loss.

What brought all this on? A friend of mine lost her husband a few days ago. He’d been sick for a while, but at the same time, one can never be truly prepared for losing a spouse. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out what do do and what to say. Sending an email or card with flowers saying “I’m sorry for your loss” isn’t enough. Yet I also don’t want to drop by unannounced bearing flowers and food to express my sympathies either.

I go back to when my parents died and I was actually annoyed by all the expressions of sympathy. Sure I was sad and I appreciated their thoughtfulness, but at the same time, I thought it was unnecessary. I didn’t need it, and I was forced to hold my tongue and simply say, “Thank you.” Still, I do remember their kindnesses such as when my boss had a few pizzas delivered for us.

So what do I do for a friend who just lost her husband knowing anything I do will be inadequate, perhaps even unwanted?

I ended up sending her a text expressing my sympathies and offered a few things I could do (such as pick up groceries, help with her dogs, housekeeping, or a listening ear). Is it enough? No idea. Too much? Again, no idea. Nor has she responded, but I’m not surprised. I’m sure she has a lot more on her mind than responding to a text.

So, yeah, I don’t do death well.

At Odds

To be human often means to be at odds with oneself. What the heart wants, the head ignores, and what the head knows, the heart refuses to hear.

Such is the case with addiction. In this case, social media addiction. My head always knew social media could be addictive and that I may indeed have that problem. My heart, on the other hand refused to admit it. It simply likes it too much. Better to live in ignorance and do what it wants, consequences be damned.

Yet now, being off of it (except for one hour a week which I will describe below), my heart can’t deny it any longer.

It’s now been ten days (less one hour) since I’ve checked any social media. I’ll admit I figuratively slobber at the idea of getting back on, and my fingers figuratively itch to type in those websites.

It’s getting better though. I’ve managed to steer my attention away from each temptation by reading a book (or two) and diving into my new story (the first chapter is finally complete).

In fact, I’m nearing a point where the thought of social media makes me cringe a little. It’s nice not having to wade through all the national and international drama and taking the risk of being called the whatever the popular –ist of the day is because I deign to spout an opinion.

I do miss the more positive interactions, though, and discovering what my friends and family are doing. Luckily some of them have signed up to receive updates on this humble (yeah, right. Me, humble?) blog, so I’m not completely cut off. And thank you to all for being here!

Speaking of positive interactions, the one exception I made is participating in an hour-long #healthyfaith chat on Twitter once a week. They hold the chats four times a week and discuss either a chapter of the Bible or explore certain themes. For an hour, the host asks ten questions and the participants answer and give their thoughts. Very few serious arguments, hardly any trolls, and I get to learn more about scripture.

When my church physically closed for the thing-that-shall-not-be-named last year, the healthy faith chats became my church.

Aside: my church did hold online services, and my son and I “attended” one of them. I found it more depressing than uplifting, so we never did it again. What I discovered about myself in that year is that I’m not as introverted as I thought. I need to be around people, even if I don’t always interact with them.

While a year may seem like a long time to stay away from social media, I’m more and more confident I can make it.

For once, both my heart and my head agree.

A Single Step

So far my fears that I no longer had the wherewithal to start let alone finish a new novel may have been a bit unfounded. By simply starting to write, my brain’s creative center (if there is such a thing; I don’t know my brain anatomy all that well) has seen markedly increased activity.

I started with a new character, a teenage boy (about 14) named Ciman which means “inquisitive.” And he is indeed inquisitive! The story begins with him hearing some strange noises in the nearby woods, and whatever made the sounds smells oddly of cooked meat and rotten eggs.

His curiosity soon overwhelms his fear…

Except he doesn’t discover what the thing is, because his sister comes along to tell him he has chores to do.

What happens next? Does he ignore his sister and step into the woods, or does he obey and not risk getting the switch from his mother (he has endured said switch aplenty, so much so he even named it)?

Don’t know yet. I haven’t written it. As a “pantser” (one who doesn’t outline before writing a story), it’s as much a journey of discovery for me as it is for the reader.

All I know is he eventually discovers what lurks in the woods, but whether it’ll be friend or foe? I ain’t tellin’! Don’t want to ruin the surprise if it ever gets published…

Happy Saturday, all! I hope it’s fun and perhaps even a little productive depending on your goals for today.

Oh, and some housekeeping: Since I now have more time to write, I do plan on updating this blog more often. I’ll try not to exceed once a week, though. Your time is valuable, and I don’t want to take up so much of it you end up ignoring any updates.

It’s Official

I’ve been debating for the last six months or so whether or not to kick myself off social media for a time. I did it once for a year, and I accomplished more than I expected. So many fewer distractions.

Yesterday I made the plunge and even deleted the apps off all my devices so I won’t be tempted to click on them. Sure, I can still use a browser. Doing so, however, takes a bit more effort; the icons aren’t right there, and will therefore be less tempting.

In the last two days I’ve written two pages of the sequel to my fantasy.

Yet I’m already having issues…

I’ve been editing more than writing over the last several years, shutting up my internal editor has been, shall we say, a challenge. Most of my writing has been either my blog, social media posts or short stories. I’m not as yet confident I can still pull off an entire novel.

Funny considering when I first started writing, novels were the only kind of writing I could do; short stories were the challenge!

The question now is how long to keep myself off. A year would be the goal, but I don’t know if it’ll be possible. Not because I desire to dive back in per se, but if I manage to hook a publisher, they’ll expect me to do much of my own marketing and advertising—requiring the use of social media. Not a bad thing, really, because then I could be better focused on using social media more effectively, and not merely for personal use and entertainment (I use “entertainment” lightly).

My blog here is also the exception. I actually invited my Facebook friends to follow me here if they wanted to stay in contact. Don’t know if any will, but I hope they do.

Contractural Manipulation

When asked, “What is a writer?”what’s the first thing to come to mind? Is it one who tells a good story? Seems logical. Yet what does that entail? What makes a good story?

Action? Adventure? Suspense? Satisfaction? Escape? All the above?

Or does it run deeper?

At least for female readers (I’m not arrogant enough to assume I know what the average male reader looks for in a story), it’s the emotional connection to the characters. She wants to feel the joy, sadness, fear and yes, even horror, the characters feel.

I want readers my (male and female alike) to feel all of that. I want them to laugh, cry, be terrified, and shout with joy along with my characters.

As I printed out the latest chapter of my WIP for my local writers group, I couldn’t stop myself from grinning when I thought, “This chapter is going to make them weep.”

Even as I thought it, a part of me felt a twinge of guilt. Why should I look forward to making people cry? To gleefully manipulate their strongest emotions?

Because it’s in the unspoken/unwritten contract between writer and reader. It’s why we read. We want our emotions stirred, piqued, and yes, even manipulated. And as a writer, I should never shy from that fact. The moment I do so, my story falls flat and isn’t worthy of the figurative or literal paper it’s written on.

Speaking for the Dead

For a long time, I was never a fan of cemeteries. Too depressing, all those dead people.

Until I spent an afternoon with my husband’s grandmother as she placed flowers on graves during Memorial Day. I listened to her stories and realized how much history a cemetery contains. Without them, we would soon forget the lives those tombstones represent.

What I also appreciate are the inscriptions, and sometimes the items people leave. In this case a handful of small tomatoes. I don’t know the reason for them, but I don’t necessarily need to. It was personal and therefore beautiful.

Note: this was taken last Sunday at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Mandan, ND.

Living Up to Subtitles

The subtitle of my blog is “A Writer’s Journey.” Yet when I read through my entries over the last few years, other than chronicling the occasional writers conference, I’ve talked of anything but.

I’ve been writing (obviously), but as far as sharing my pursuit of publication, not so much. How can I write about something I’m not doing?

Yep, I’ve been lazy. Procrastination is a real thing—if largely self-inflicted.

I managed to fight off the lazy/procrastination bug this time. Yesterday I sent off the two requests for proposals that I mentioned in a previous entry.

So now I get to wait. Always my strong suit (not). I have to force myself not to check my email 156 times a day.

Although, much to my surprise and delight, one of the editors emailed me back saying my proposal was received and will be delivered to the appropriate team to read through. Normally a publisher/agent won’t send a response unless it’s an acceptance, rejection, or request for more information. This is the first time I received an acknowledgment that it was received.

The best part is I now don’t have to worry about my submission getting lost in email limbo (the other was submitted through an online submission form).

This publisher prefers series over stand-alone novels. The one I sent is currently just one book, but as I do with all my novels, I leave a door or two open for more. That means I should probably start the second… Even if they don’t take it, I should probably write it anyway. Most publishers prefer series over stand alone novels, especially for sci-fi and fantasy.

At the very least doing so will keep me off social media. I’m a bit frustrated with it all at the moment. It seems people can only talk about the one thing-that-shall-not-be-named, and I’m not inclined to participate. It’s not beating a dead horse at this point, it’s pounding the poor horse’s sun-bleached bones into dust.

Realm Makers 2012 – Day 3

Today when compared to the last two days was fairly uneventful. I finished out the session on finding one’s readers (aka: marketing), and another on wounding the human body by Carla Hoch (author of “Fight Write”) which my son also attended. He enjoyed the teen track, but I think he might have enjoyed her sessions even more. She’s an absolute hoot. If you want to know more about writing believable/accurate fight scenes and what a human body can survive/not survive, her book, blog, and videos are a must (you can find everything on fightwrite.net).

Frank Peretti also had a Q & A session and gave the closing keynote. As before, he was exuberant, funny, and also wise.

For the keynote, he recited the scene from the first Jurassic Park movie where Dr Ian Malcom (played by Jeff Goldblum) warned (paraphrased), “You were so determined in finding out if you could do something, you never stopped to ask if you should.”

Frank compared how Hammond and the scientists’ attempt to control nature failed rather spectacularly to how we’ve lost control over technology in much the same way. And how now it’s controlling us. He asked us to step back and figure out at what point we say enough is enough.

As he was speaking I wrote in my notes (with paper and pen, even though I’m using that evil tech to write and post this): “Yes Big Tech knows a lot about me, probably a lot more than I think they do. They can use it to destroy me and my life if they choose, and with very little effort. Jesus, however, still knows more about me, and I can trust him to not misuse that information or try to destroy me with it.” None of us can say the same for Silicon Valley, or even our own government that knows a lot more about us than they will ever admit.

Right after the keynote ended, two fellow “Realmies” happened to read my nametag. They pulled out their copy of Havok’s “Sensational” anthology asking, “Didn’t you write a story in this?” They then asked me to sign it, which always makes me happy. But it’s also humbling. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel worthy of being asked to give an autograph. I’m no different than the two ladies who only want people to read their writing, find joy, and be inspired or strengthened by it.

The day ended with a book expo and author signing that was open to the public. Not as many showed up as in previous years, but I would still call it a success. The line for Frank Peretti was understandably the longest.

Believe it or not, but Tom bought more books than me! Or I should say, I bought Tom more books than I bought myself…

So Realm Makers 2021 is now officially over. I did, however, sign up for the post conference workshop on using social media to sell more books. I’m determined to not let my fear of using it deter me from using it…

Interesting, don’t you think, considering I just wrote about how such technology is controlling us… ?