Thoughts from a tree

10 Question Writer Blog Hop

Beth Salmon tagged me to answer a 10-question blog hop.

1) What genre(s) do you write, and why?
Adult Fantasy. It’s my favorite genre to read. It has magic, unicorns, and mermaids – what more could you want? I read all shades of it, but I prefer the “traditional fantasy” according to Goodreads categorizations. Stories related to fairy tales are my favorites. There’s some argument over whether my current manuscript is NA (New Adult) or not, but it’s not filled with sexy stuff, so as far as I can tell, that means it can’t be NA, at this time.

2) Do you mostly read within your own genre, or do you read others as well?
I read fantasy the most often, but I also like historical fiction, mystery, sci-fi, and paranormal romance. I’ll try almost anything, but I have very definite preferences. In particular, I will stop reading books where very bad and/or graphic things are done to animals. I also get bored with strong military themes and most romance.

3) What have you learned as a writer that you wish you knew when you first started?
There are so many things… If we go all the way back to when I was a kid, I wish that I hadn’t stopped pursuing it as a career. I was talked out of this by my well-meaning father who threatened that I would become a “ditch digger” if I tried to become a writer. And that I wouldn’t be able to afford ponies 😦 . I’m not sure that qualifies as something I’ve “learned” however. I suppose learning to not write in omniscient earlier would have been helpful. Since that’s what most fantasy novels used to be, it was how I started out.

4) What author or book speaks to you the most and why?
Anne Bishop – she writes dark fantasy filled with amazing female characters, talking animals, and a dash of romance. Although horrible things may happen in her books, the bad guys always end up equally punished by the end. As someone who believes in eye-for-an-eye, I especially enjoy that sense of justice being delivered.
Kristen Britain – Her Green Rider series (yes, with a title tailor-made to appeal to me) is an epic fantasy told from the point-of-view of a female messenger, who also happens to have a bit of magical power. This started out as a fairly standard good vs. evil fantasy series, but has since evolved to be much more, and the characters turned out to have a lot more gray in them than originally suspected. Her last book even centered on time travel. The only problem is that it takes her YEARS to write each book, partly because they are each very large.

5) Do you have word/page count goals?
Sometimes. Not at the moment. I’ve completed Nanowrimo a few times, so I know I can crank out a lot of words in a short period of time if needed.

6) Where do you do most of your writing?
At home, in my recliner, with an airdesk to hold my laptop. If I’m writing a first draft though, I use pen and paper, which means I can curl up and write anywhere that is quiet (I do not handle noise well).

7) If you could disappear somewhere for a few weeks to completely immerse yourself in writing, where would you choose?
Somewhere quiet and with few distractions. Maybe a cabin in the woods, as long as it had working plumbing and temperature control.

8) Pick one of your main characters. If his/her house were on fire, what would he/she choose to save and why?
Lisa would save her books. There’s not much else she cares about. Depending on the point in the story, this might mean trying to save her bookbag (holds unlimited numbers of books), which would be a pointless gesture, since it is indestructible. She might also try to simply put out the fire, once she’s learned some control of her powers (early enough in the story and she might have caused it instead)

9) What’s your bad writing habit?
Oh, you mean something specific to writing?
I probably over-edit. I can always think of more things I want to change or fix. I was at a conference recently, where a story was told about an author who would go into bookstores and correct copies of his books after they were published. I can totally understand that desire.

10)What is your writing goal for 2015?
I still need to think about this some, but at least one goal is to finish the book I just started. To query more agents. To make more friends at writing conventions. I’ll be more specific later. Oh, haha, and to blog more 😉

I have a confession to make

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but kept procrastinating writing it. Partly due to fear, I’m sure, of what the reaction of others might be. Will they treat me differently? Think of me as somehow “less”? Argue with me about the validity of my statement, as has already happened once? Then, this weekend, without really meaning to, I told a room full of mostly strangers. It was in the middle of something else, just a line that’s in my query letter, which I was reading out loud. The reaction was thankfully minimal, at least to that, but my *secret* was still out there.

Meanwhile, I have several other posts that I want to write, that require this post to come before them.

So the confession is this: I have Asperger’s.

This won’t be a surprise to those who both know me very well, and understand what Asperger’s is/means. I don’t want to call it a disease, or a syndrome, because I don’t think that’s accurate. It’s just a “difference.” A different way of seeing and processing the world, with both pros and cons.

I had pondered the possibility for a while, first given to me in 2010 at an ex-AOLers party. When discussing my lack of tact in certain matters, someone said to me “We probably all have a little Aspy in us.”

I researched it, of course, and took some online tests (all of which were positive), but was still reluctant to admit it definitively. We all know how unreliable self-diagnosing over the Internet is, after all. But I kept thinking about it, and considering…

A bit later, I was working on a book (the one I’m currently querying), and some of the main character’s personality traits are modeled after my own. One thing I really wanted was a main character who wasn’t witty in conversation, who didn’t immediately make friends with everyone, and who had problems understanding things like body language. They say you should write the books you want to read, and I wanted a character I could relate to.

Then I saw the episode in Glee with the girl who uses Asperger’s as an excuse for everything and it made me really angry. When I think of character’s on TV who portray Asperger’s, I think of Bones, and Sheldon. But not that girl. She’s just a caricature (as everyone on Glee is, I’ll admit). But because of her, I decided that I wanted to put it out in the open why the character in my book is different. I wanted people who read it to know that that girl on Glee isn’t a good representation. I wanted children who have been diagnosed with it to *know* that my character was like them (not counting her magic powers and personal baggage). I wanted parents to see more in their kids than the problems. And I didn’t want to deal with people telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, though I’m sure some still will.

So, I got tested. It was a somewhat lengthy and expensive process, more so than I expected. I could only find one place in the Orlando area that would see me as an adult. I’m not sure what they think happens to kids when they grow up, since this isn’t something you grow out of. You just learn to cope, with varying degrees of success. Asperger’s basically means people with a form of autism that are still able to function in normal society. So there are lots of people, particularly in the generations before it was well-known, who have it and were never diagnosed. Lots of people I know, since I work in a field where the Aspy tendencies are both accepted and beneficial, as my former coworker pointed out. Many of my friends. Many of my family.

I stumbled across this post over the weekend, and it was the final push that made me decide it was time to write about it. I think it’s important that Asperger’s in adults is discussed more. I think it’s important to recognize that women have it too.

After I got the diagnosis, the therapist asked what I wanted to do now. Did I want therapy? Did I need anything for anxiety or depression? No. I just wanted to know. I wanted a word to use to describe the differences in myself. A word that others might understand. An easier way to explain why I don’t like big parties and can’t lie when someone asks me if the picture of their baby is cute (sorry, but it never is). I don’t want to change who I am. I want to be understood and accepted.

Now you know.

“And knowing is half the battle.”

My second-favorite fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast. An old fairy tale, it has more versions than can be counted. The traditional versions follow a similar thread: a merchant loses his fortune when all his ships go missing and he is forced to move to the country. Upon hearing that one ship has been found, he goes back to the city, but first asks his daughters if there is anything they would like him to bring back. The other daughters ask for frivolous and expensive things, but Beauty only asks for a rose (or flower seeds). When he gets to the city, he discovers the ship was taken by pirates. Still poor, the merchant heads home with nothing, gets lost, and ends up on the Beast’s property.

The Beast (unseen) lets him eat and sleep there unmolested but becomes enraged when the merchant takes one of his roses. The merchant explains about Beauty’s simple request and the Beast agrees to let him go if Beauty comes instead. The merchant goes home, tells the story, but doesn’t want Beauty to go. She insists, sometimes with the encouragement of her sisters. What happens once she’s in the castle varies widely, but he asks her to marry him every night, she always says no, and eventually the Beast falls in love with her. When he finds out she wants to see her family again (sometimes because her father is sick), he lets her go but sets a time limit and tells her that he will die if she does not return before then.

Once at home, Beauty delays, or is tricked by her sisters (who are jealous of the riches the Beast has given her) into staying past the time limit. Then she realizes that she has been gone too long (from a vision in a mirror, a dying rose, or something else), panics, and returns. The Beast is near death when she finds him, but she cries and says he must live because she loves him and will marry him. He then transforms into a prince, tells her he was cursed by a dark fairy, and they live happily ever after.

I couldn’t tell you which version I read first, but my favorite is Robin McKinley’s version, Beauty (she also revisited the tale decades later with Rose Daughter). Of the versions I’ve read, it also seems the closest to the Disney version, with a more liberated and intelligent heroine, though it was written first.

As far as the Disney movie goes, the detail that bothered me the most is that the entire thing takes place in a handful of days (the little mermaid at least gave an excuse for this, though it annoyed me there too). On the other hand, I liked that she was a bookworm and had a horse. The whole Gaston issue was new too, but that added tension and fit well enough. Magical or cursed servants exist in other versions prior to Disney, including McKinley’s.

I was also a big fan of the original television series, Beauty and the Beast, starring Linda Hamilton, which was a much more modern version (at the time) and also involved fighting crime. More recently, there was the modern-day retelling, Beastly. I haven’t read the book, but did enjoy the movie. It bothered me that the “Beast” didn’t seem very ugly to me, and just had what looked like a lot of odd tattoos, but I did like the modern detail of her complaining about her imprisonment on Facebook.

A long time ago I read another version that I wish I could find. It was also modern-day-ish, but the Beast had been disfigured by either a disease or an accident. I don’t think she ends up with him at the end, but she does convince him that he should see a doctor and try to get some of his injuries fixed so he can look and feel normal again. It was a very different story than usual and I regret I can’t remember enough details to find and re-read it.

The theme of Beauty and the Beast is one of the most ubiquitous story themes, particularly in romances or stories with romantic elements. There is something very compelling about a story wherein someone learns to look past appearances. Interestingly, this theme is rarely gender-reversed. I’m not sure if that says something about men, or just our faith in women. Women do seem much better to me, in general, about looking past physical attributes, both in regards to romance and otherwise (though maybe not during high school).

My current work-in-progress is loosely based on the beauty and the beast theme as well, though my beast was never human and isn’t going to turn into one. At least not permanently.

Disclaimer: Although I work for Disney, I just work on computers, and have nothing to do with the movies, marketing, or anything like that. My thoughts have nothing to do with the company, nor have they been encouraged or paid for by the company.

Ariel's Grotto

At Ariel’s Grotto in Disneyland.

The logical next fairy-tale for me to talk about is Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, since it’s my favorite. Although my first memories of it are theatrical in nature, it was years before the Disney film existed. I believe the first one I saw was Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre version, and this remains one of my favorites. There was also a version I saw by Toei Animation that was pretty good, and, sometime later, the Shirley Temple version.

I can’t say when I first read it, but my mother owned some large books that were collections of fairy tales, fables, and other stories, and I remember starting to go through them at a very young age. These were not kid-sized versions, but books meant for adults and intended to be accurate translations of the original works.

For those who are unaware, this is the basics of the original story: the little mermaid (she does not have a name) is fascinated by the world above and in great anticipation of the day when she will finally be allowed to go above the water, as her older sisters can. The day arrives, she sees the prince’s ship, sees the prince, the ship is wrecked, and she rescues him. She leaves him on an island (he does not see her), where he is found and nursed by a girl. The mermaid goes home and asks her grandmother some pointed questions about humans. It turns out that mermaids live for ~300 years, while humans live shorter lives. However, humans have a soul and go to heaven when they die, whereas mermaids simply turn into sea foam. The only way a mermaid can get a soul is to marry a human male.

Determined to get a soul (and find the prince), she goes to the sea witch, who is KIND and tries very hard to talk her OUT of it. Undeterred, the little mermaid insists, trades in her voice, becomes human, and is discovered by the prince. She becomes his faithful companion and is given the honor of getting to sleep outside his door (I guess that was something *good* back then). While he is reluctant to get married at first, when he see his betrothed bride-to-be is the girl he thinks saved him, he is overjoyed and the little mermaid is devastated. Not only has she lost her love, but, as part of the spell, she will die the morning after he marries another.

The sisters of the little mermaid beg the sea witch for more help, and obtain a magical dagger for the little mermaid. If she kills the prince with it, she will turn back into a mermaid and live a full life. But she can’t do it, because she knows him well by then and loves him, and she jumps into the sea. Instead of just turning into sea foam forever, her love for the prince allows her to become a ‘daughter of the air,’ which will allow her to earn an immortal soul eventually.

Despite all its differences, I loved the Disney version. As a fan of happy endings, it didn’t bother me that they changed that (and I never liked the bit about mermaids not having souls to begin with). I was sad that they made the witch evil, but they needed a villain from somewhere, I guess. I also loved the music, which helped a lot. At work we often are asked who our favorite character is and my answer is always Ariel.

In ‘researching’ a mermaid-based story I’m writing, I acquired many other theatrical versions of the story. The ones that were made before the Disney version tend to stick much closer to the original story, whereas the newer ones prefer to have a happier ending (and one even throws in a subplot about trash in the ocean). While I like different aspects of each one, Shelly Duvall’s is still my favorite of the non-Disney choices.

I’ve thought a lot about why the little mermaid always resonated so strongly with me (and millions of other people). In some ways she is an explorer, the only one of her species that wonders about other creatures, and wants to see outside her world. The Disney version takes this a step further, and has her determined to not listen to the prejudices she was taught, nor fear others. She believes there is more to humans than what the mermaids can see.

In addition, she exemplifies the concept of ‘true love’ when she decides to die instead of killing the prince. In the original version she never claimed to love the prince in the beginning; it was the eternal soul that she was after. It was only after the significant amount of time that she spent with the prince that she fell in love with him. I’m not really a fan of ‘love at first sight.’ That seems more like ‘lust at first sight,’ than love, to me. So the fact that she loved him for an actual reason made her feelings much more real to me than those of most other fairy-tale heroines. And sacrificing yourself for another is the ultimate expression of that love.

Although Frozen may have replaced The Little Mermaid as my favorite Disney movie, the original story is still my favorite fairy tale, and Ariel is still my favorite Disney character.

Disclaimer: Although I work for Disney, I just work on computers, and have nothing to do with the movies, marketing, or anything like that. My thoughts have nothing to do with the company, nor have they been encouraged or paid for by the company.

Disclaimer: Although I work for Disney, I just work on computers, and have nothing to do with the movies, marketing, or anything like that. My thoughts are in no way associated with the company, nor have they been encouraged or paid for by the company.

I was originally going to cover a different fairy tale first, but since the movie is still out, and it’s AWESOME, I’m going to talk about Frozen instead. Unless you just don’t like musicals, you should go out and see it right now if you haven’t already (I’m looking at you, Mars and Jim). I have seen it three times in the theatre so far, and would gladly see it again. I don’t do that. I don’t even like going to the movie theatre at all. Prior to the Avengers, the only movie I’d seen in a theatre more than once was Serenity, and for most movies I just wait for the DVD to come out.

I was, like many, skeptical that Frozen would be any good. Their initial ads for it basically lied to us, making it appear to be a stupid kid movie with annoying sidekicks. But, it’s not. I swear. The songs are amazing, the visuals are dazzling, and the story is epic. I cried. A lot. Don’t believe me? Just go and watch it already, if you haven’t. If you have, then you know what I mean. Do you want to build a snowman?

Frozen is loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. Loosely, as in, it has about as much in common with it as the movie Lost World did with the book. In The Snow Queen, there are two children, a boy and a girl, who are best friends. One day the boy gets a goblin-made piece of glass in his eye and heart. The glass makes his heart cold and his eye can only see the bad things in life. The snow queen abducts him for unclear reasons and takes him to her palace, where he is slowly turning to ice, though he can’t feel it.

The girl goes off to search for him, and wanders through several adventures. A number of plants, animals, and people help her along the way, including a not-terribly-nice robber girl, who eventually lets her have a reindeer she had been tormenting. The girl finds the boy at the snow palace and cries, melting the pieces of glass and returning the boy to normal. They travel back home and live happily ever after, though they realize they have become adults.

Now, prior to the release of the movie, I read an article lamenting the fact that several female characters of the original story had been “replaced” by the obvious love-interest Kristoff, who appeared to be in charge of the quest to save the kingdom. However, not only do I think Disney’s story is better than the original (there, I said it), it is also has a lot more ‘girl power’.

In the original version, the girl survives and rescues the boy through her ‘innocence and kind heart.’ She is a passive participant as the events unfold around her, with her only real choice being to try to find her friend (and she only intended to go as far as the river). Although there are also two witches, a princess, and the robber-girl, those characters don’t really do a lot either, and most of what they do is bad, except for the princess. I’m not sure how any of that is supposed to be good for girls to see.

****** Major Spoilers Past This Point ******

Also, make sure you stay till the end, and pay attention to the credits.

****** Really ******

****** I warned you ******

Anna (pronounced ‘Onna’), on the other hand, is determined, brave, and loyal. While she has not one, but two love interests, what she really wants is her sister back. In sharp contrast to the cold Snow Queen, Elsa has spent her whole life trying to do the right thing and gives up everything in her attempt to protect her sister.

And then there’s the end. I was so incredibly thrilled at the way that played out. While Gary was disappointed that Anna never got any powers of her own, I was okay with it. It was so poetic, and beautiful, and so NOT the stereotype that people always claim is in the Disney Princess movies (note I said ‘claim’, I will do a whole other post on that one of these days). The trick with the prince was also fantastic. I will admit I did not see that coming.

Even Olaf was not as annoying as I had feared he would be. Him and Sven both provided nice little bits of humor at opportune moments.

I ordered the soundtrack as soon as I got home, and I’ve memorized all the songs pretty much. I like all of them, which is rare, but “Let It Go” is my clear favorite. I think that in addition to it pertaining to the movie, it is also a song of empowerment. It resonates particularly for women, but anyone could feel inspired by it. I was going to list all the lines that support this, but then I realized it would be most of the song, so I’m just going to paste the whole song in and bold them.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the Queen
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in; Heaven knows I tried

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on

the cold never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry
Here I stand
And here I’ll stay

Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back, the past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

Here I stand
In the light of day

Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

While it’s not nearly as tear-inducing as “Do you want to build a snowman?”, this is now my favorite Disney song, even beating out Ariel’s “Part of Your World,” which I am very emotionally attached to. I’m sure it helps that Idina Menzel is such a talented singer. I can’t wait for “Let It Go” to come out on Karaoke!

I’ve struggled with what to write about on my blog. Although there are many things I’ve considered, when it comes down to sitting down and typing up a post, they rarely seem worth it. At one of the panels at the Florida Writer’s Conference I attended, a discussion about blogging occurred (it was not the main intended topic of the panel) and someone made a comment that struck me. I wish I could remember the exact words, or who said it, but it boiled down to this: write about the things you like, rather than the things you don’t, and try to make it something that relates to your book(s) in some way.

Some examples included things like, if you write books for middle-grade boys, you could talk about fun activities to do with your son(s) (since it’s usually going to be the parents reading the blog/buying the books, rather than the child). If you have a main character that likes to rock-climb on occasion, you could talk about rock-climbing.

I had an epiphany. I *love* fairy tales, and their relatives of mythology and legend. Most of my stories are at least tangentially based on a fairy tale, and are meant for that particular vein of fantasy. As soon as I made that connection, the theme presented itself “Fairy Tale Fridays.”

So that’s what I’ll do. I don’t promise to update *every* Friday, but I think I will be more successful than I have been in the past. Sometimes I will just discuss a particular fairy tale, the cliff-notes if you will, and its current adaptions. Other times I might talk about a mythological creature, or a particular adaptation of a fairy tale.

Disney is bound to get mentioned a lot, since not only do most other people know the movies, but also because I really like them (that’s a large part of the reason I work there, after all).

So that’s my plan, we’ll see how it goes.

Starting … now 🙂

On Thursday I tried to help someone recover a document that she was sure she had saved, but could not find. I checked all the usual things (recent documents, unsaved files, etc.) but couldn’t find it. I knew she had gotten the original document in email, so I checked in there, but still no luck, and then we were out of time for me to look.

Today, I ran into the same problem myself. In this instance I knew exactly what I had done. I KNEW I had saved it, I knew what I had saved it as, but I couldn’t find it. I tried re-opening the original file, making a change, and saving it, but it only gave me the expected default save directory. Google failed me. Windows Search F-ing sucks (did a search for *.doc on a directory that has hundreds of .doc files and it found none) and I was extra handicapped by retarded Windows 8. Finally, it occurred to me, the document was originally from email, same as the other person, even though I had saved it locally at some point before, I couldn’t remember if I had opened it from email or from disk (I hadn’t done any editing the first time I read the file). So I opened it in email, edited, and went to save, and voila, found the location. I had to copy the file location from the save prompt since I couldn’t easily find how to show hidden files in the root folder (every day I hate Windows 8 more). Gary suggested I should post the solution so maybe Google can find it for the next poor soul, so here we are.

The answer is: C:\Users\$your_user_name\AppData\Local\Temp
AppData and everything under it are hidden.

I bit the bullet and started querying agents. This completes my goal to “have at least submitted a book to agents by next DragonCon” (DragonCon is labor day weekend). Hitting the “send” button for the queries is oh-my-god-stressful, followed by more stress as you wait for the inevitable rejections and hope for something positive (and continue to send out queries).

As E-publishing/self-publishing is all the rage these days, I feel like I am constantly explaining why I am still pursuing the traditional publishing routes. Coupled with this are the people who self-publish and then brag about all their published books (unless they are making significant money at it, this is not an accomplishment. Anyone with a credit card can get their book published).
There are a lot of pros and cons to traditional vs. indie publishing vs. self-publishing, but for me the bottom line is this – I have yet to see a non-traditionally published book that was great. I’ve read plenty that are okay, some that I might rank as high as good, and there are huge amounts that are awful, but I have yet to see any (from a previously not-established author) that are great. There is no self-published Hunger Games, or Harry Potter, or Terry Pratchett, or Anne Bishop, etc. And the reason for this is simple: the bar is lower.

At one of the writer panels at DragonCon last year, one of the authors likened it to learning to pick locks: if the only locks you ever try to pick are the easy ones, you aren’t going to become good at picking the harder locks.

I don’t want to write mediocre books. I want to write great ones. I want to write books that people will read over and over again because they enjoyed them so much. Books that someone will decide are their “favorite”. I’m not talking “The Great American Novel” here; I just want to write really good, really entertaining books. It may take me a while to get there. Most of the “big hits” are by authors who have been writing for a long time already (J.K. Rowling being an exception). They have been writing for the traditional publishing market. They have been learning and improving with each book that they write.

I’m not saying you can’t make a living with self-publishing, because you can. John Locke and his 99 cent awful novels and paid-for-reviews prove it. But if all I cared about was making money, I wouldn’t write books at all. I make pretty good money in my current career and even if I become relatively successful I will still probably take a pay hit when/if I switch to writing full-time. Writing is not lucrative. The percentage of authors who become wealthy from writing is miniscule. Anyone who thinks this is an easy way to make money is very disillusioned. Scam/vanity publishers prey on this misconception, convincing authors to pay them to publish their books.

People on both sides like to quote how many rejections particular authors had. Laurell K. Hamilton had over 200, J. K. Rowling had dozens, Stephen King lined his walls with his. Traditional publishing opponents like to use these as examples of how agents and publishers “don’t really know what they’re doing.” On the opposite side of the table, people use the stories to bolster their self-confidence and overcome the pain of rejection. However, I think there is an alternate possibility. I suspect that as these authors were going through their cycles of rejection, they probably continued to edit their stories and improve their craft. Maybe the real reason Hamilton did not succeed in the beginning is because her writing had not gotten good enough yet. Maybe the first submitted version of Harry Potter had plot holes in it. I know that I will continue to work on my current submission. If agents offer suggestions or reasons they don’t like it, I will consider them. I will read about writing and go to writing workshops and be in critique groups. My writing will continue to get better. My next book will probably be better than my current one. I can already see the difference in my writing from before compared to now. And, hopefully, one day, I’ll write awesome novels and I’ll have a shelf of hardcovers with my name on them, from a publisher like Tor, and I’ll be proud of them. If I take the easy route and self-publish, I don’t think I’ll ever get there.

(Note that this is only for ME. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to self-publish, particularly for non-fiction or niche markets, I just don’t feel it is a good idea for me specifically).

I didn’t want to post just about depression, which is in itself depressing, so I thought I would follow it up with something more cheerful.

Terry Pratchett is an amazing author. If you haven’t read his books yet, go get them, read them, and then come back. It might take a while, but I’ll wait. Particularly the discworld series (including Tiffany Aching) and the gnome series, since those are the ones I will be discussing (this is your spoiler alert).

When we started listening to the discworld series (we started listening to them on audible on a lark), it was his humor, his stories, and his bizarre metaphors that caught our attention. Starting around book 3, the characters start to grow and have significantly more depth and the story arcs become even more compelling. Surprisingly deep ideas are often contained within them. Since a lot of the characters repeat throughout the books, they grow and change. Some of them get married and have kids, because that is what people do, but romance is never a central theme in any of the books. There is very little intimacy shown on the pages, even for the characters that are together. So, when he occasionally throws romance in, it catches me somewhat off-guard (or at least it did at first).

“What is the sound of love?”

By itself, those two sentences don’t seem that impressive. However, every time I think about them, it makes me cry (a good cry). I think it might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever read. It doesn’t make any sense of course, unless you’ve read the book (“I Shall Wear Midnight”, the last Tiffany Aching book). Pratchett does such a phenomenal job of building things up and showing you little details that you don’t even know are important at the time, that when he gets to the end, to that crucial last little bit, that his few simple words are able to convey everything else. He doesn’t have to talk about how the characters feel about one another, have them kissing (or more), or tell us that they live ‘happily ever after.’ He manages to convey everything by focusing on one or two little details about the characters, which tell us all we need to know. In this particular example, both of the characters enjoy words/knowledge and have previously had discussions regarding what sound should be associated with particular words. Also, Tiffany had tried to ask her future-self if she/they would ever fall in love (although she didn’t actually say ‘love’, even that was alluded to); her future-self smiled, faded away, and said ‘Listen’. At the time, we thought that meant something like ‘listen to your heart’, or simply puzzled over it. Only at the end do we realize what it meant. There are a lot of other things that build up to that moment, to make it significant and make you care, but those are the details that directly relate to the sentences spoken.

In another book (“Thief of Time”), we learn two things: 1) Susan likes gourmet chocolates, but not the nougat ones. 2) Susan doesn’t believe in ‘perfect moments’. So at the end, when the boy shows up right after she’s eaten a chocolate, which turns out to be nougat, and she learns “even with nougat, you can have a perfect moment”, we know what that means. There are no romantic speeches or declarations of love; they aren’t needed.
In “Diggers” (from the Bromeliard/gnome trilogy) the romantic moment is conveyed with the delivery of a particular flower. In “The Fifth Elephant” Captain Carrot shows his love when he, without fanfare, resigns his job to follow Angua, who has disappeared. Simple things, yet, in context, they mean so much.

One of the other interesting things about romance in his books, is that it is never a given. Female protagonists can exist quite contently without constantly worrying about who they will hook up. Granny Weatherwax, one of the main witches, never even has sex (you only know this because of a unicorn she rescues). Nanny Ogg has had several husbands, but we never see any of them. Susan starred in several books before she found her love, as did Tiffany; in fact, neither of them had even MET their future soulmate until the book in which they get together at the end, and had rarely thought about or discussed their single status prior to that.

Physical attractiveness is never what brings the characters together either. It is always something else; pieces that are important to both of them, ways in which their personalities click together like a well-made jigsaw puzzle, which makes it more real, and compelling. There are no lengthy descriptions of his or her physical attributes, which is pretty rare for a book written by a man.

I find Terry Pratchett’s ability to use words fascinating. I can only hope that one day I’ll have a tenth of that ability to use in my own stories.

To anyone who might be keeping track, you might have noticed I’m falling behind on my one-blog-post-a-week goal, since I didn’t write anything last week. To make up for it, I’m going to try to do two posts today, one is 😦 and one is 🙂 . This is the 😦 one.

I’ve been having difficulty the last few weeks with lack of motivation/depression. It was triggered by someone who I care a lot about trying to kill herself. It’s hard to explain the details of why it bothers me so much without possibly revealing who it was, which isn’t my right to do. Let’s just say that the circumstances that precipitated the event are still ongoing and things seem to only be getting worse.

When I was younger, I sometimes believed that I was living in a Truman-Show-esque world where I was being watched and everything revolved around me. A symptom (“proof”) of this was how when I had recently learned about a particular topic, or had something on my mind, it seemed like everyone else was talking about it. As I have been thinking heavily about depression/suicide/mental illness (or, trying not to think about it), the subject seems to keep coming up. For instance, a guest on Wil Wheaton’s blog discusses his own struggles with depression, which leads to someone who regularly contemplates suicide. Just a few minutes ago, a podcast discussing mental health prevalence in writers came up in a writer’s group discussion on facebook (this was the final prod that made me decide that I should write this post, btw).

I saw this infographic on a completely unrelated article the other day and noticed a disturbing statistic: INTENTIONAL self-harm is the THIRD-leading cause of death in America on this chart. (you can find the full picture here). Now, this chart isn’t all-inclusive and is a bit vague, but it got me thinking and I found this, which lists suicide as rank 11 on causes of death in the USA. That still seems *really* high to me. More importantly, it seems really high to me in comparison to the amount of attention it gets. Mental illness, in general, does not seem to get enough attention. Often, we seem to still believe that it is somehow the *fault* of the person who is experiencing it and that they need to just ‘grow up’ or ‘toughen up’. People are often afraid to mention their struggles, lest they be marked as ‘crazy’, ‘incompetent’, or worse.

We need to talk about it.

People tend to think about depression in two primary categories: 1) teens, which they often dismiss as ‘moody’ and 2) adults who had something bad happen to them. While the idea that someone can be physiologically depressed (with no ’cause’) is hard enough for most people to grasp, it seems even more difficult for people to imagine that a child could be depressed. “What does a child have to worry about?” Children are, after all, supposed to ‘bounce back’ from nearly everything, right? I know that I was depressed quite a lot when I was a child. I wasn’t good at making friends, there were problems at home, and I had a lot of health problems. Anxiety runs heavily in my family and I worried about *everything*. I was maybe ten or eleven when I started contemplating suicide. I have a very vivid memory of standing in the shower and trying to figure out how difficult it would be to drown. I decided not to for a fairly stupid reason (I had a cat who I worried wouldn’t eat without me), but it could have easily gone another way. I was not alone in my struggles. I had a friend who regularly engaged in self-harm, starting at that same young age; she would grasp a piece of skin and cut into it with scissors (the large/sharp ones).

I have continued to struggle with depression, off and on, the rest of my life, as have many others. While I gave up on the idea of suicide, I have often wished for death, or thought that everyone would be better off without me. I know that many of my friends have had similar struggles. As the podcast discusses, creative people are the most at risk for depression, for whatever reason, and most of my friends are creative. I have tried several medications and have been dissatisfied with all of them. The majority of them seem to dampen everything down; they make you feel as if you are in a fog and/or cause you to not care about anything. Not caring has a double-negative effect in that it can cause you to not care enough to keep your job, or your spouse, or whether or not you take your meds. Then when you stop taking the meds, whether because you can’t afford them anymore, you forget, or you don’t want to, you end up in withdrawal *and* you have all these things that you’ve been neglecting to make you feel even worse. Some people manage to find drugs that work well for them, and that’s great, but I worry that the medical industry is going about it the wrong way (not that it is trying to create drugs, but the type of drugs).

While we can’t cure depression through force of will alone, there are things we can do to ‘manage’ the illness better, just like we would for someone with cancer or diabetes. Getting enough/good sleep/sleep patterns is important. Going outside, particularly in a ‘nature’ environment has been proven to ‘lift spirits’. Regular exercise is often key; it doesn’t have to be strenuous, just a simple walk will do. The podcast discusses standing desks and treadmill desks, which is something I wish more offices would support. Getting rid of depression ‘triggers’, when we can, is also good; for me this includes health-related issues. Depression and poor health are often linked and can feed off each other into a descending spiral of gloom. However, I found it frustrating when I would go to some doctors and all they wanted to concentrate on was my depression (maybe I wouldn’t be depressed if I wasn’t in pain all the time!) Things like Fibromyalgia are relatively new ideas and when a Dr. can’t easily *see* what’s wrong, they tend to leap to diagnoses of depression (‘it’s all in your head’) and ignore the rest.

Having a support system in place is crucial, whether it’s a spouse, a friend, or a family member; someone we can tell about our doubts and fears without being disparaged or criticized and who will find ways to encourage us without being patronizing. I know that I am lucky in this, having found Gary. One of the things that makes me so upset about my friend who recently tried to commit suicide is the way her husband treated her afterwards – he actually gave her grief about ‘taking a vacation’ from her duty to be a wife and mother. WTF? That is pretty much the exact opposite of what a good spouse should do!

I better stop here, before I go off on a long rant about that… sorry for the rambling discussion; hopefully it is useful to someone. Just remember, depression and suicide are more common than we think. If you are ever feeling depressed or suicidal, know that you are not alone, that it will get better, and that killing yourself will only hurt the ones who love you. If you can’t talk to anyone else, you can always talk to me, even if it’s just an anonymous comment.