Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zero

The past couple days I have had zero motivation to do much of anything.
A big contribution to this has to do with my period (something I wish was non-existent), but I wonder if I'm doing something wrong.

I posted the other day about committing myself again to writing every day.
Even though I've definitely written something everyday since then, I have written zero words on my novel or any of my current major projects. I think one of my biggest challenges when it comes to writing is that I have to create my own structure. I have to make up my own schedule because there isn't anyone telling me to be at work at any set hour for any set amount of time every day.

So, I've come up with a list of things to help me do better as a writer, because as much as I can slack off I want too badly to do something with my words. I don't want to be a zero, a loser, a wannabe-that-couldn't-hack-it.

1. Plan ahead/to-do lists. When I set out a plan for what I want to accomplish the following day, I tend to actually do it. If I don't plan anything and just sort of leave it up to fate or how I feel, then I tend to sleep in late, have a groggy waking-up, and wander aimlessly around my apartment for most of the day.  I've found that when I write a to-do list the night before, when I wake up I already have a purpose for my day--finish all my goals and check them off the list.

2. Get an early start. I am (or at least used to be) a morning person. I feel good in the morning and I work well in the morning. The only problem is, to me, "morning" means before 8 a.m. I'm learning that as lovely as it sounds to let myself go to bed and then wake up as my body tells me, it just doesn't work for me. I need to set an alarm for a specific time and have a specific goal for what I want to accomplish at that time of day--go for a run, or take a shower, or drink a protein shake. That way, my morning has a purpose and a time frame.

3. Designate a time and place for writing. When I write I have to have space so I can focus. I don't do very well when there are people around expecting me to interact with them--it's too distracting. So, I need to set aside a specific allotment of time for writing in a specific place where I can access my favorite pandora station and pop in my earbuds to block out all potential distractions. This is only complicated by the people who want my attention and whom I want to spend time with.

4. Communicate needs and plans. Jo fully supports my writing endeavors and most all other endeavors. The thing is, I haven't really put any schedule or structure to my writing or my other ventures (like workouts and runs), and so it's gotten me in a big rut of nothingness. Communication is key to...well, everything...but I think communication is the key to success and happiness in all aspects of life (even if I'm not so great at it most of the time).

What do you need to keep motivated and on track?

Write on!

Friday, April 26, 2013

V is for Variety

I like to shake things up. As much as I LOVE to have a set schedule and a pattern to the way I do things, I really need a good amount of variety in my life.

I hear a lot of writers say things like, "I can only write on the computer." Or, "I have to use pen and paper when I write." Sometimes people ask questions about what the preferred method of writing an author has, and I have to say that I think it's a huge mistake to box oneself into a single creative process.

For me, I've found that each project is different. I write with pen and a  (legal size) pad of paper for my chopped line, 14-year-old girl story. I mostly typed my 16-year-old boy/Dare Devil story. I tend to only really write Adventures of Clyde the Duck stories when I'm on vacation or in the mountains (often the same thing). I write poetry in my journals. And I anticipate writing something solely on my old fashioned type-writer one of these days.

Other than writing methods, places, and times that all give variety to the creative process, I think it's also very important to seek out a variety of styles, genres, or themes. Every one of my projects has been vastly different from the last one, and despite how much it seems agents or publishers might not like that when it comes to marketing, I think it makes me a stronger writer to pursue variety.

Yesterday Jo and I finally got a bookshelf, so we set all our books out in piles of different genres. We've got picture books, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, and adult fiction. We've got non-fiction personal essays, non-fiction nature writing, non-fiction about trees, non-fiction about the Appalachian Trail, and non-fiction personal growth/spirituality. Then, of course we have poetry. I don't think anyone's personal library could consist of any one genre, and I struggle to understand how any writers works could be limited to just one genre.

But maybe there are those writers who only write YA fiction. Even if a writer stays in one category, it's absolutely essential to add some kind of variety--maybe in style, format, point of view. I know that a huge part of my passion lies in YA fiction. Two of my novels are YA, but they're very different. One is is a chopped line form with few words and a lot of empty space to tell the story. The other is a little more conventional in form, but has a male protagonist rather than a female one, and addresses completely different social and emotional issues. The books I've got rolling around in my head right now are both very different genres, styles, and themes.

How do you like to spice things up?
What do you do to add variety to your writing?

Write on!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

U is for Unconditional Love

A lot of parents claim they have an unconditional love for their children. And I believe most of those parents. But what does unconditional love mean for writers? Lately, for me it feels like I've had a sort of love-hate relationship with my writing. I love to write, but it's so painful sometimes that I just hate it and I can't bring myself to put words on the page.

I've been working on a novel for three years. I know, to some people three years is nothing compared to how long they spend on one novel. But, it seems like it's been SO LONG to me. I feel this sort of urgency to be finished with my novel and on the hunt for an agent and an editor and a publishing house.

I think my problem is I don't love writing unconditionally. When the scenes get hard and I don't know what terrible things a character could possibly say to ratchet up the tension, I just avoid writing. True writers love even the most difficult, most murky middle part of their stories.

Maybe I'm being a little hard on myself. I like the hard stuff. I love to read those scenes that irk me and make me want to scream at the characters and ask them what on earth are they thinking! And, as much as I complain about it sometimes, I really love to edit and re-write (and even delete) those beautiful scenes of mine. But, does my writing really know that? Do my characters really feel like I'll be with them all the way and see them through every up and down of their story? Do they know that I love them?

I wouldn't be surprised if they questioned the conditionality of my love a little bit, because, let's be honest, I haven't been writing every day.

I hear it over and over that the key to becoming a great writer (besides Read, Read, Read--which we love to hear) is to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. As parents do for their children, so writers must do for their writing--develop an unconditional love. I believe (at least for me) that means learning how to write every day. EVERY DAY. Rain or shine, at home or on the fire line during lunch. Writing is not a chore. It's not something to dread or to be afraid of; it's not something that I want to avoid when it get's hard.

Words are part of my soul, my person, my existence. They hold all the beauty of the world even when they fail to convey it. I love words. I love writing. And I want it to be clear: my love is unconditional.

I tell my beautiful lovergirl everyday without fail that I love her. Now it's time to do the same thing for my writing.

Write on!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

T is for TA Demings

One day I will be so famous that when you hear TA Demings, you'll know exactly who I am and you'll have read all my amazing books. That's the plan anyway.

 For new readers who don't personally know me, my name is Tiffany. My chosen pen name is TA Demings (which is simply my first two initials and my last name). I like it because it seems very much like an author name--don't you think it sounds literary?

 I used to think of myself as a fiction writer. At one time I considered myself a contemporary young adult fiction writer. Now, I'm learning that there are so many ways to share stories, and because of my interest in writing non-fiction and maybe even a few mystery novels, I think for now I'll go with being just a writer.

 On second thought, you can call me TA Demings :) Feel free to check out my bio page at top there ^. And if you'd like you can read some of my answers in a lovely interview on Myself as Written.

Do you have a pen name? Or maybe you think your name sounds literary enough as is?

Write on!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

S is for Series

I don't often read book series. But I hear that they sell pretty well--meaning a lot of people DO read them.

One of the things I've been thinking about lately is the idea of mysteries. It seems like the popular mystery stories tend to come in the series form. Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys. Hank the Cowdog. Park Ranger Anna Pigeon. Boxcar Children.

So, I'm not very familiar with all the adult mysteries other than those involving Ranger Pigeon, but it seems like mysteries tend to have one distinct character who goes around solving new mysteries throughout many books.

I would love to have a full set of books with a loveable character that people want to follow around on several different adventures, but I'm not sure my mind works that way. Maybe I just haven't taken the right classes or read the right books to know how to write that way, but I tend to think more along the lines of one book for one character who has one BIG story to tell.

I'm trying to do my research by reading these mysteries...but I've already given up on the park ranger who solves murder mysteries in the wilderness (which by the way should be right up my alley), so how could I stay enthralled with someone for multiple books? Maybe it would be different if they were my own creation...

What are your thoughts about series? Do you read them? Do you write them?

Write on!

Monday, April 22, 2013

R is for Revision

In many ways I dread the revision stages of writing. It means that I have to cut out, re-write, and re-do all the beautiful things I already wrote. But, I've been thinking about the process of revision a little differently lately and it's helped me stay motivated to keep working on my novel.

Revision, broken down to the roots, is re: action done over, often with the implicaiton that the outcome of the original action was in some way impermanent or inadequate,  and vision: a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation, or stated aims or objectives of an individual or organization.

It still means that I have to cut out, re-write, and re-do a lot of the beautiful things I already wrote, but it's also a chance for me to look at my story with new perspective. I get to see a new vision of what my characters' motivations are, and figure out what it is that really drives my story.

Most of the scenes I wrote in the early process of my current project don't mean much to the story as it is now. A huge part of early writing is to figure out who the characters are and what their story is. Once  I get a good grasp on that as an author I have to cut out all that other stuff that was simply for me. Then I have to add in more processing scenes which I'll have to change or delete later--and so the process goes on and on...until the whole story is pretty much filled in.

When I first started this story I knew that I had a character with a secret. I knew she didn't want to share that secret with anybody and I knew there was a girl at school who would torture her. I've since, in my re-vision processes, discovered what that secret is, and (at least partly) why this girl hates my main character.

What do you think about revision?

Write on!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Q is for Quest

Every great story generally involves some sort of quest. Not all of them have to involve a knight or dragons or spaceships. Some quests are more subtle than others. Sometimes characters can make it seem more like a quest than one would originally think. Heck Superhero is a great example. Heck is on a quest to save the world...except really, it's just to find his mom. What Martine Leavitt does with this book is so brilliant that I wish I had written it, because she digs right into the mind of a boy who pretends to be a superhero and sees life as though he really is a superhero as a way to deal with some very real-life issues.

Other stories it doesn't quite seem like the characters are embarking on such substantial quests, but they are (or if they really aren't then they fail as stories). While most of the time what comes to mind when one hears the word quest is some medieval adventure, quest simply means to search, to investigate, or to seek. It definitely involves some kind of adventure, whether dragons and swords are involved or not. Here are my ideas on the elements of a quest:

-Desire. Your character has to want something--A new car, a doughnut, the chance to get out of town.
-Obstacles. There has to be something (or several somethings) keeping your character from getting what they want--dragons, evil diet, the town mafia.
-Determination. Your main character must be determined to get what they want despite all the obstacles.
-Enemies. Whether your character has human enemies or robotic ones, there's got to be someone who is also determined (with a good motivation) to thwart the desires of the main character.
-Friends. Every character needs a friend--but remember that the friend cannot fight any of the major battles or conquer the foes in the quest because that's up to your main character.

In my own novel, Some Secrets Aren't Secrets, Sophie is my heroine. Her quest is to be with her little sister again and to keep a big secret. Some of the biggest obstacles are Sophie's own past issues and her inability to open up, but they also come in the form of her aunts and uncle, an ex-friend, and school staff. Sophie is determined to get what she wants. She's got enemies, and at least one friend. But she fights her own fights until the end.

Whether this post has helped you or not, it's definitely helped me put a new perspective to the structure of my book and the motivation of my characters.

What do you think are elements of a quest?

Write on!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

P is for Plantation

One of the cool things about living in Mississippi is that there are awesome weekend getaways that are close by, comfortable, and steeped in both history and culture.

For Jo's fabulous birthday weekend we had the chance to stay at Monmouth Plantation, which now operates as a Bed and Breakfast.
The mansion was gorgeous. The gardens and ponds were gorgeous. The food was delicious (even though the complimentary hors d'oeuvres consisted of crackers and gross sausage).

We had a very fancy dinner at the Dunleith Plantation Castle Restaurant as well. The food was DELICIOUS! It was SO GOOD. Jo and I made sure to eat our dinner in true, proper fashion (fork in the left hand, knife in the right--at all times). We had such a good time.

We finally got a taste of some good Southern hospitality, and we relaxed in the luxury of the finest room we've ever stayed in--bathrobes and all.

Though I don't know just what it will be, I'm sure a story will come out of this historical and cultural adventure. I can't wait to see what it is. 

Have you been anywhere cool lately? 

Write on!

Friday, April 19, 2013

O is for Hors d'oeuvres

I have a really embarrassing story.
I am twenty-three years old. I can't count how many times I've heard the term hors d'oeuvres thrown around for some gathering or another. But, I don't think I had ever seen (or been aware of having seen) this particular term spelled out.

I planned this big fancy weekend for Jo's birthday complete with a fancy dinner, cocktails, and complimentary hors d'oeuvres.  Not sure what the complimentary whatsits would entail, I asked Jo just what are Whores Day Overes. She, of course, laughed at me. And she will probably still laugh at me for all of time to come. :)

Every time someone has mentioned hors d'oeuvres, it always sounded like orderves. Right? I never learned French, so how could I be expected to know that hors d'oeuvres isn't pronounced Whores Day Overes, but is actually orderves?? Why are all the letters silent in French?

Here are some other interesting words that we use for everyday things that make absolutely no sense to me because we DON'T HAVE LETTERS WITH ACCENTS!!! in the English alphabet. At least none that I was aware of. Yet, here they are, and everyone expects you to use the right little accent when you write them down.


There are entire lists of French words and phrases used in the English language, and I think it's ridiculous. Why don't we just speak French instead? Seeing how so many of our words already derive from the French language...

English is weird. 

Write on!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

N is for Numbers

Generally speaking I kind of hate numbers. And math. I definitely hate math.
But when I read this poem, I LOVED it. Who knew that numbers and words mixed together could be so powerful?

Living in Numbers 
by Claire Lee 
Sunday, August 22, 2010:
Number of times I've woken up after
oversleeping and sprung out of bed like a ninja: 959
Number of broken bones: 3
Number of scars, physical: 4; emotional: 947
Number of funerals attended: 7
Number of friends, Facebook: 744, real: 9
Number of cavities filled: 0

Percentage of people I can stand in the world: 3.5
Number of times I've laughed so hard my sides would bruise: 2,972
Number of times I've wanted to bawl my eyes out: 320
Number of things I regret: 11
Number of things I know: 918,394

Monday, August 23, 2010:
Number of times I've woken up after oversleeping and sprung out  
   of bed like a ninja: 960
Number of broken bones: 3
Number of scars, physical: 4; emotional: 1,293
Number of funerals attended: 7
Number of friends, Facebook: 800, real: 7
Number of cavities filled: 0

Percentage of people I can stand in the world: 3.4
Number of times I've laughed so hard my sides would bruise: 2,973
Number of times I've wanted to bawl my eyes out: 321
Number of things I regret: 13
Number of things I know: 918,390

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

M is for Marriage Equality in New Zealand


New Zealand is known for their stunning mountains and landscapes, the odd little kiwi birds, and now for marriage equality.

Listen to this man use humor, logic, and I daresay a bit of love as he explains the effects of passing the marriage equality bill:

"All we are doing with this bill is allowing  two people who love each other to have that love recognized by way of marriage, that is all we are doing. We are not declaring nuclear war on a foreign state. We are not bringing a virus in that could wipe out our agriculture..."

Write on!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

L is for Les Miserables

Most high schoolers read (or pretend to read) some version or another of Les Miserables.
Even those who actually make it through the book will likely not really understand what the story was about, and then there are a few who will think it is pure genius--outstandingly emotional and epic.

I will admit that I was one of those students who read the majority of the book and didn't really understand the whole story...but I did catch some of the significant things. Also, it really helped that we watched a movie (or two) adaptation in class.

It's one of those stories like Pride and Prejudice that people geek out over and that has to be re-adapted every few years or so like Batman.

Personally, I LOVED the newest adaptation with Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. It was beautifully done, and even had me crying in the theater. I'll be honest though, mostly I just loved Anne Hathaway and her brilliant performance in that one scene--you know the one.

One of the things I love (despite how many Batman movies there are) is the way people take one piece of art and play with it, and the whole world (at least us English major nerds) are in on the fun of it.

So, if you've seen the 2012 version of Les Mis (or really any version, I guess) then I hope you find as much joy in this video as I did:

Write on!

Monday, April 15, 2013

K is for Kick-ASCAP-2

I love art. I love it in every form--words, paint, chalk, sculpture, metal, and especially music.
While I was in England I fell in love with the voice and original songs of one particular musician named Chris Bennion, who has a band called Coral Bones.

On Homegrown Hits there's this contest thing going on called Kick-ASCAP-2, and Coral Bones is number 7 right now with the song Lemon Tree. I don't know what to categorize it as. Could be pop I guess (according to the category on the site), but it's classier (or more artistic) than most pop music is, in my opinion. At any rate, I really like his stuff. Check him out on the Homegrown Hits page, and if you like what you hear, then sign in and give him 5 stars to help him win the contest.

Here's a taste of his music right here:

Make sure to give him the 5 stars for Kick-ASCAP-2.

What music do you love? Are there any phenomenal artists that you know in person? Artists that have started in your home-town or current town? Please share.

Write on!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

J is for Jo and Rain

Sometimes I can't believe that I've already found the love of my life. It seems like I'm too young for a love like this. Or maybe it's just surprising because love is nothing like I thought it would be.

Most of the time, though, I relish the fact that Jo is in my life. She's the most beautiful person I've ever met--inside and out. Somehow no matter how I try to say it, words never seem to be enough for what I feel with Jo.

Today started out with rain and thunder, which is how I remember our first season together. It was a rainstorm that literally pushed us together after I shot down her perfectly good attempt at conversation. It was that moment in the park halfway between her house and mine when she sang with her guitar under the pavilion and the water dripped from the trees, the air fresh with the smell of wet earth--it was that moment when I knew I loved her. It was in the puddle, after the storm that kept us awake for hours, where we danced in slow motion, and I realized she loved me back.

I feel like there are a million things I could say about her, and how much I love her, but words never capture it. Instead, I'll let Jo tell you with some humor, and that adorable laugh, and a song. Our song.

"And I may never know, but still I wonder why you let me in your heart."

Write on!

Friday, April 12, 2013

I is for Immature


1. (of a person or their behavior) Having emotional or intellectual development appropriate to someone younger.

The last person to call me immature has met me a total of three times, and likely knows nothing about me other than that I own two large paintings (and at one time, I owned pink, zebra-print blankets), I'm in a relationship with a beautiful woman, and I like to laugh at stupid YouTube videos (in my own apartment which I pay rent for using my own money earned at a full-time job for the U.S. Government). Oh, and that I generally go to bed before 9 p.m.

I have no idea what would cause a person to call me immature, unless they find my lifestyle to be "childish"...in which case, I'm very glad not to be mature or adult-like.

My favorite books are picture books. I read more books written for children than I do adult fiction or non-fiction. I have an entire collection of rubber duckies, and I like to color with crayons in coloring books.

I live the life that I want to live rather than the one that society thinks I ought to be living now that I'm over the age of 21. I don't have a car or insurance or student loans (though I do have a Bachelor's degree). I save a good portion of what I earn and I take frequent adventures into the woods. My dream job is doing exactly what I already do (only hopefully getting paid a fraction more and having a wider circle of readers): fighting fires in the summer and writing in the winter.

I'm in a committed relationship with the person I love more than anyone, I pay my rent on time every month, and I like to splash in puddles when it rains. If that makes me immature then so be it.

My heart aches for the poor souls who feel like they must be married by 21, have children by 22, and be in stable careers with mortgages, car payments, and student loans. I ache for those who forget how to be young--how to laugh and play--even when adulthood creeps into their lives.

If I have to play out my entire life with people balking at how immature I am as I dance around the house in my underwear singing into the spatula, then bring it on! I will continue to take my duck everywhere I go. I will keep reading my favorite bedtime stories. And I will never sacrifice my imagination, my laughter, or my ability to enjoy myself for the securities, stresses, and boredom of an "adult life".

Life is not meant to get caught up in fulfilling someone else's expectations of what's right or proper. It's about enjoying every moment we can and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks.

What are the things that might make you appear "immature"? Do you love Disney movies? Do you play with your food?

Write on!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

H is for History and The Help

Mississippi is steeped in history. I'm much more aware of the fact that segregation laws were in place so recently that there are people still alive now who lived it, despite it never being a huge issue in my lifetime.

I like to think that I'm not racist, but sometimes I feel like maybe the things I do could be construed the wrong way. The other day at the gym where Jo and I were the only white people, I had forgotten my water bottle and huffed my way over to the drinking fountain. A very big, muscly black man walked by as I stepped up to the fountain, and I nodded at him all out of breath, thinking that he was just passing into the other room to tackle a different machine. He stood off to the side as I got my drink and when I finished I realized that he was headed to the water fountain at the same time as I. Maybe it wasn't anything, but I felt a little silly for marching over and taking the first drink, and I wondered if maybe he thought it very white and overbearing or snobbish of me, or if perhaps he was just being a gentleman by stepping to the side to let my dainty self go first. 

Regardless of how he perceived my lack of attention to what others were doing around me, it reminded me that not long ago it was illegal for people like the two of us to even drink from the same fountain. Or to work out in the same gym for that matter. It seems, and maybe I'm putting too much into it than is accurate, that people here remember those days much more often and perhaps with much more resentment than people in other parts of the country do. High school proms were segregated until 2008 in Jackson, MS. The reasoning behind it was that it happened to work out that way or something, but it sure does shed some light on the way things are here. In some ways--mostly political--it seems as though I've stepped back in time and I'm still facing issues that I thought were resolved even before my time. 

Here, a huge market for businesses is that they are one of the first or only "African American owned". When I began to hear that over and over in advertisements, I wondered why it was such an accomplishment--not that I mean to demean it or even dismiss it as important; it just seemed to me that in a country currently being led by an African American, why (other than perhaps the obvious marketing tools, or course, which I recognize as effective where 70% of the population is African American) is it such a huge deal to set things apart from being African American owned. Then I realized how huge it really is--the fact that we have an African American president, and that African Americans have excelled so much in business and other realms when  not too many years ago they were deemed property themselves. 
The Help 

Even in the sixties (which was when The Help was set), after they had legally been emancipated, African Americans were thought of as property to be bequeathed to one's posterity. I still have yet to read the book, but the movie The Help is so touching and so frightening (in the sense that history was so recent). 

I've been told that African Americans here in Mississippi and perhaps the wider South have a general attitude of feeling entitled (a quality that I think most Americans possess), and that because of this there is a general lack of good customer service. The lack of good customer service I've definitely experienced here, but not solely from African Americans. With The Help in mind, I can't help thinking most of the time that perhaps African Americans along with Native Americans and Japanese Americans have more of a justification for feeling as though they are entitled to something. An apology, maybe? The chance at being president or major corporation owner? Or the opportunity to never look a person in the eye when checking their groceries over the scanner... Who's to say, really? 

I think living here has given me a chance to see things in a different perspective. I can see just how much history is part of every day lives in some way or another whether we realize it or not. And as a skinny-ass white girl, I've been very grateful for this opportunity to diversify my life a little more and to venture into unknown cultures where I've already made friends I'll never forget.

What history affects your every-day life?

Write on!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

G is for Grandma

My Grandma always loved everyone who came through her front door (even though she was as racist and sexist as many others from her generation). She often said, "I never worked a day in my life." And by that she didn't mean she never worked. She grew up on a farm and she helped thrash the beat fields probably with as much force as any man, but the fact that she was never really paid for any of the work she did seemed to shine through to me as a young girl looking for work and money. My brothers and I often did chores around the yard and her house for her so we could earn a couple dollars here and there, but she always paid my brothers about five times more than she paid me to do the same amount of work. I used to think she was a little behind on the times, but now that I understand the inequalities women STILL face in the workforce, I think maybe she was spot on with society. 

Even so, my grandma (like I said already) truly loved everyone. My favorite thing was to hear her talk about my grandpa. She always said, "The only thing Bernell and I ever fought about was who loved the other more. I always won." Since my grandpa died when I was only about four, I can't exactly confirm this to be true about their relationship, but I think the fact that she remembered her relationship with him that way means that they really had something special. 

There are so many things I could say about my Grandma--like how she would get me and my little brother to help her dig out the expired, yet "perfectly good" sandwiches and frozen burritos from the dumpster behind the old Top Stop. Or how she had no inhibitions when she spoke to strangers in public (mostly about her diarrhea and/or constipation or other such embarrassing physical ailments).

Somehow she was always positive. She loved to laugh and smile, and even though there were times when she got frustrated or upset about how she couldn't find her pills or she was out of root beer, I can't remember a time when Grandma was ever truly angry or even sad. 

Grandma's favorite colors were Pink and Green (which everybody knew from seeing her house and her wardrobe). She loved to wear lipstick, watch Perry Mason, and sing her own little made up tunes. 

My passion for writing and creating came directly through my mom (who is also a writer and very creative) from my grandma. So, today in her memory, I'd like to share with you one of the songs she wrote called Think of Him (I'm hoping that someone will record my cousin singing this at the funeral so I can share that with the words and all, but for now here's the melody and accompaniment played by one of our family friends): 

Write on!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for First Mississippi Friend

The day I got my library card was the day I made my first friend. I had stayed at the library longer than I thought I would so when I finally got to check out my books it was dark outside. I still had to walk home. Lee, the security guard on duty at the library, asked me if I'd like him to walk me out. I felt embarrassed because I wasn't just walking outside to my car; I had to walk the six or seven block all the way home. Immediately afraid of the prospect, and also not wanting to tell him I was walking, I told him that I'd be okay.

He insisted and so, once I had my books checked out, he escorted me out to the parking lot. I sheepishly told him that I hadn't driven and had to walk home. This shocked him, and he walked me to the edge of the parking lot warning me about the many homeless people who hang around the library. I told him that if walking in this neighborhood at night was a bad idea then I'd never do it again.

He said, "I like you. You have a sweet spirit. I don't want anything to happen to you. I don't want to see your face in the papers."

Grateful for his concern, and thoroughly freaked out about walking home in this new (and apparently scary) city, I shook his hand before making my march out of the parking lot. I didn't look back (mostly out of embarrassment), but I'm certain he stood there watching me until I was out of sight.

A few days later I met Lee at the library again. This time he walked me outside (to show me where the after hours drop boxes are), and I assured him that I had driven this time--I was very proud of myself. He was glad to know I'd driven as well. We got to talking a little bit about our lives (my writing and firefighting), and he said, "You came into my life at an interesting time."  Then he shared a story with me about how his house burned from a grease fire. I don't know why, but I felt an equal desire to protect him and help him that he had shown for protecting me. I gave him some tips about grease fires (use salt or flour to put it out, not water) and encouraged him to get a fire extinguisher.
Before he went back to his duties in the library, he said, "I think we're going to be friends."
I smiled and said, "We already are friends."

I kind of thought that I'd make friends with someone more my own age and gender and such. Instead I met Lee who is probably in his fifties or sixties. He is a big, black man. He's not really what I expected to find, but at the same time he is everything I wanted. I desperately wanted a friend in Mississippi. And  I'm not sure why him, but I'm reminded of that concept of humanity--when you strip all these labels or expectations of age and race, gender, career, and sexual orientation, all that's left is simply humanness. What's left is a person with a family, a history, and love.

One of these days, I hope I can get a picture with Lee, because it will really show the contrast between us on the outside. Hopefully my words can show all the similarities we have, though.

This is a "poem" that I'm working on. It needs a little help, still, but I just had to share about my very first friend in Mississippi.

My First Mississippi Friend

Some people say "never judge a book by it's cover."
This is especially true in libraries,
but also in friendship.

Since I moved to Jackson I've been on the lookout for a new friend.
Someone smart like me,
with similar interests and common values.

When I saw Lee sitting behind the counter
as I waited to check out my stack of books,
I had no idea he would be my first Mississippi friend.

On the outside we have nothing in common.
Not age
or gender.
Not height or weight
or skin color.
But in just a few minutes we both sensed a kindred spirit in each other.
And after two brief conversations,
I learned that we're more alike than two people with all the same physical traits could be.
We both love our families.
Fire has played a significant role in both our lives.
We both work to keep people safe.
We have a shared passion for writings and history,
which is probably why we found each other
at the only place in town where you can read books for free.

When I saw Lee sitting behind the counter
as I waited to check out my stack of books,
I had no idea he would be my first Mississippi friend.

Some people say, "never judge a book by its cover."
This is especially true in libraries,
but also in friendship.

Write on!

Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for Equality and The Children

I read a quote today (as posted by one of my friends on Facebook) by Martin Luther King Jr. that reminded me that I do not have to remain silent on any issue, regardless of what aspirations I have for becoming a published author of children's literature. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

I do not believe in marriage the way that many Christians and Americans do. I place no emotional, religious, or personal value on marriage. However, at this time the issue of marriage is being analyzed, inspected, and dissected in every public forum around the nation. The Supreme Court is examining this issue with considerations for eventually making a national decision on how marriage should be treated or "defined" and whether or not there should be marriage equality.

What makes your love or your relationship more valid, important, or sacred than ours??

A few days ago I had the chance to listen to an oral argument addressing the topic of marriage. I am confused at how this issue is at all conflicting. Listening to these questions and points as though I were a judge in a high school debate event, I could easily make my decision to give all the winning points to the side of pro-marriage equality. The argument made in this discussion on the side against marriage equality is that marriage is an institution of "procreation," and that marriage should be for only those who are able to procreate together.

So, what about those over 55? Or those couples who are sterile? Or couples who are homosexual? Well, it seems that those who oppose marriage equality don't really want to oppose the marriage of two individuals who are unable to procreate; they want to oppose the marriage to two same-sex persons. No matter how you look at it, that is unjust discrimination.

What I thought was interesting was the idea presented that marriage is not about two people or their relationship or commitment to one another; rather it is about children. Another argument that doesn't stand against homosexuals--people who, like heterosexuals, also have children and are part of families.

When someone urges people to "think of the children" as a means to decide against marriage equality I must only ask, "What about the millions of gay children and the millions of children who have gay parents?" Or are they not considered children if they're gay? What about all the children who grew into adults and now want marriage equality? Shouldn't we consider them? I'm sick of people trying to use children as some kind of cop-out. "We must protect the children," seems to never actually protect children or humans, but rather to press some personal view or belief onto an entire society. Pro-life arguments seem to include the same sorts of things. I have no problem with people considering an unborn fetus only an hour or two after conception to be a "person," but if you are going to press for every baby to be born then I want to see more action in terms of taking care of those babies, and even further, in taking care of the children and the adults which they grow to be.

But getting back to the idea of what marriage is, and how people want to say that it is not about the love between two people, all I can think to say is bull shit. Marriage today in our society is seen as a commitment of love between two people. Nowhere in any ceremonies have I heard about children or potential children. It's between two individuals on the general basis of love and fidelity. Wedding ceremonies are not about celebrating procreation or children, but about celebrating the love of two people who have decided to make commitments to each other.

People like to claim that we have a government that is separate from religious institutions. I have a really hard time believing that when people continue to say that the issue of marriage is difficult or conflicting. There are no stable arguments for denying same-sex couples the right to marriage or the legal niceties that come with such a term.

When Jo and I were looking for apartments there were several places that required separate applications for any person over 18 who would be on the lease with the exception of married couples, who would only have to submit one application and subsequently only one application fee.

Another example of the small things that married people take for granted is how Jo lost her wallet along with her drivers license. In order to get a new license from Mississippi she has to have proof of her address in two separate forms. The list of qualifying form includes bills, lease, and other "important" documents with her name and address on them. Since my name is on the bills and the lease (remember the fees would cost double for us to have both our names on the lease), Jo is struggling to produce the necessary documents. There is a clause, however, stating that bills and such addressed to a spouse would also qualify as appropriate documentation. Since we are not and cannot be legally married at present, that's not a viable option in this situation.

That my relationship with Jo should be treated as anything different from any other romantic, committed, sexual relationship between two opposite sex persons is a concept that I have never been able to understand, even when I held what I would now consider the most anal of religious views.

Married couples have a lot of benefits that unmarried couples do not, and until those benefits become null for all, I will sound my voice in favor of complete marriage equality.

Dear United States Government Officials, 

Stop making simple things seem complicated. Make marriage equal. 

With love, 


Do you have a real argument for banning total marriage equality?
I'd love to hear it.

Write on!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Doppelgängers and Humanization

Will the real Sarah Palin please stand up
The other day I saw a woman who reminded me of my friend's mom. I'm not sure what it was that reminded me of her--maybe it was just that she was a middle age, white woman with long brown-graying hair. Maybe it was the religious setting where I saw her. I'm almost certain if these two women stood side by side they would look nothing alike, and I wondered why my brain automatically made a connection between this stranger to my friend's kind, loving mother.

I've done this so many times I can't keep track of how many people reminded me of some other person that I already had a close, personal connection with. Some people have said that there are perhaps only a certain amount of "types" of people in the world. Like there are only 20 body types, 5 hair colors, 7 nose configurations, 10 eye shapes, etc, etc. and these features just turn up over and over no matter where we go in the world. While that could be true--I don't really know--I always come back to the interesting concept that every single person I've met, regardless of who they remind me of, is unique and one of a kind. No matter how similar two people seem, each of them is unique and loveable in their own ways.

Last night as I put away the dishes I wondered why it is I make connections between strangers and people I already know and love. I was rather impressed with myself when I realized that this semi-subconscious need for familiarity is actually a process of humanization.

I see a stranger whom I know nothing about and in an attempt to connect with them I dig into the cracks of my memory to categorize them into the familiar. While this could easily be construed as labeling someone or perhaps even judging them quickly or irrationally, I've found that most of the time the memories I uncover to match with strangers I encounter are positive and tend to add a sense of humanity to the unknown.

One of the things that disgusts me when it comes to politics or even religious rallying is how humanity is often removed. Instead of seeing the people around us as fellow human beings we place a line between "us" and "them". History shows us just how far humanity can be lost (or perhaps abandoned) when we look at the holocaust associated with WWII or any other genocide for that matter, or when we look at slavery and then segregation, and even now with issues like marriage equality.

I know that I have certainly drawn lines of "us" and "them" on many occasions--which I am embarrassed to admit. Even while I've been here in Mississippi I've recognized the tendency to view black history as well, black history, removing any sort of fellowship between me as a white person recovering from corrupt societal behaviors and cultures and black individuals also recovering from those same corrupt societal behaviors.

I was not a slave to cotton plantation owners, neither were any of my ancestors. But, as far as I know I also don't have any ancestors who were slave owners either (maybe I need to do some research on my genealogy), but sometimes I feel this odd tension (which I'm sure is of my own creation) between the concept of me being a white (and therefore, historically, oppressive) person and my neighbors who are black (and of course historically mistreated). Part of it is that I worry the history of slavery was so recent that maybe my neighbors see me as what white people historically were in this area.

And then, I realized, as I've noticed how people here remind me of people throughout my life, that what we all share--regardless of our skin color, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other distinct characteristics--is humanity.

At times I think I have let the wrong doings of those in the past follow me through time and haunt my perceptions of how people potentially perceive me. Now, rather than seeing the differences, I want to see only our shared humanity. Maybe the purpose of the doppelgänger, rather than being an omen, as was, I believe, once tradition, is instead a reminder of humanity. That's at least how I'm choosing to see it. The beauty of having no restrictions or boundaries in my spiritual or "religious" beliefs is that I get to choose to see things however I want! And I'm delighted to see a piece of those I love in complete strangers, who no doubt, actually have the beautiful inherent qualities of simply being human.

Have you found humanness in a doppelgänger lately?

Write on!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for Conference

I can never say how important writing conferences are for every aspect of the writing process. Whether you want to hone your craft, catch up with the latest hits, find a critique group, or take a step toward publication, writing conferences are the answer.

There are a lot of conferences out there on every topic you can imagine and on a range of affordable to save-all-your-pennies.

Me (a humble student) and author, Kathleen Duey
One of my favorite writing conferences that I've been to is Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers held in Sandy, Utah.

I've had some of the best mentoring from
authors at this conference. I also met some of the coolest people there who I'm still very good friends with. If you're looking for some intensive critique on your writing from published authors, and a chance to meet agents and editors in the children's literature field then this is a great place.

I've made some connections with agents at this conference and I plan to send my novel to those agents very soon. This summer I know there will be some fantastic authors, and at least one agent I've got listed as my first choice (you know, if I could choose). :)
Me (a stellar assistant/dinosaur) and author, Greg Leitich Smith

Details are on the website, but check it out now because I know the classes fill up quickly--especially the really good ones.

I strongly encourage attending the full day (or the bootcamp or full novel) workshops if possible because those are where you get the most for the money, develop the closest relationships, and have the strongest opportunities for connections to agents and editors.

Summer was always hard for me to make time for this conference because that's when I'm working often 60+ hours a week, but I was lucky enough to make it work out a couple times, and I'm a much stronger writer because of it.

Write on!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Belief and Bunnies and New Beginnings

Pink Azalea in the Mynell Gardens on East Sunday
For Easter this year Jo and I went to a Unitarian Universalist church service. Overall, it was really cool. The service was held in the Mynell Gardens special for Easter. The Gardens feature a variety of plants as mentioned in the Bible such as Cedars of Lebanon. Before the service there was a drum circle where a small, diverse group of people played songs on diverse sets of drums. It was really cool and beautiful.

During the service they did a lot of audience-interaction sorts of things where the person at the front of the congregation would read or sing part of a poem or song and then everyone would join in on the following refrain or chorus. There was also a solo saxophone number and then another musical number with the saxophone and one of the drums.

The main speaker for the service lost the majority of my attention as he spoke about Jesus and fishing. Then toward the end of his speech he said, "I don't believe that Jesus died for my sins, but I believe he lived what he believed." I found that very interesting mostly because I'm not sure what Unitarian Universalists believe. This particular one confused me beyond all reason, but I've since learned that Unitarians generally don't have any set beliefs or doctrine. They welcome anyone to their meetings regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, time spent in prison, etc. And other than a slight focus on the earth and taking care of the earth, I don't know what they teach or preach.

My ignorance aside, the speaker finished off his talk with histories and traditions other than those of Christ's resurrection with regards to Easter. Wikipedia will of course say that Easter is a Christian holiday, which has never really made a whole lot of sense since it's not like Christmas which is on a specific day every year. I never really knew before what determined when Easter was until today when I looked it up. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the vernal equinox on March 21, and can therefore be anywhere between March 22 and April 25. With that description though, it sounds much more of a Pagan tradition (with my very limited understanding on either subject, of course) just because if Easter really was supposed to be the day that Jesus rose from the dead, wouldn't it be on the same day every year??

The Vernal Equinox is when night and day are the same length and it marks the first day of Spring, which in every way--pagan or christian or atheist--is a symbol and literal iteration of rebirth and regeneration.

I'm not Pagan (although I'd love to learn more about Pagan beliefs) and I definitely not Christian, but I celebrate life. I love Spring. I love seeing how Mother Earth is born again every spring. I know that beliefs are hard to share because they are ideas more than tangible or explainable concepts, but I believe in life and regeneration--how could anyone not after seeing Spring after Spring bring new buds and leaves and flowers? And I believe in life and regeneration in a greater sense, too. Maybe I'm getting at something a bit more Buddhist, but when I die I believe I will return to that greater part of me which I like to call Mother Earth and maybe I will give birth or perhaps be reborn into something like this:

Bunnies are apparently a Pagan symbol for fertility, and eggs are charms historically set on headstones as charms for rebirth--neither one has anything to do with Christianity. 

History and traditions are sure interesting, aren't they?

Write on!

Monday, April 1, 2013

A for Adventure

Sunrise at Zion.
Hello World! April is A to Z Challenge month! I only know about this from my friend Sarah at From Sarah With Joy because she's done it a few times. I did the challenge on my own last year without signing up or anything because I didn't know you had to sign up or that it was an option. But this year I learned that you can sign up with a thousand plus other bloggers, so I'm doing it officially this time.

A is for Adventure. As many of you know, I'm on one of the biggest adventures of my young life right now. I just moved to Mississippi--almost 2,000 miles from Utah (my home of the past 23 years).

Moving was stressful, and finding my way around town was frustrating, but now I'm at that point where I'm excited to go for a five mile run just so I can explore my new home a little more thoroughly.
Yesterday I discovered a cute little park right in downtown Jackson along with a cozy coffee shop and a few restaurants I'd like to try out.

I'm getting the hang of the people and how they talk to anyone and everyone as if they know you. The other day while I flipped through a rack of clothes, a woman started talking to me about a skirt as though we were a couple of friends who had come shopping together. It caught me by surprise, but in all truth was very delightful.

Playing Tag in England with new friend, Oliver.
When I went to England a few years ago for a study program our director reminded us over and over to not be loud, obnoxious Americans. I doubt we succeeded in being quiet, but I can't imagine how stressful it would have been for my director to try and control the volume of twenty Mississipians instead. If Americans are loud, then the good folk of Mississippi are booming, perhaps thunderous. It's something that I'm trying to train my normally quiet self to, if not match, at least meet halfway.

Stan, Grand Canyon friend.
I've been thinking a little extra today about the word adventure and what it really means to me. I've been on so many adventures in my lifetime from the simple walk or run down a new street my own neighborhood to driving a moving truck literally across the country and moving into a new state, city, culture, and demographic. What I've noticed about all my adventures is that they take a little bit of thinking outside the box--or the apartment or the state--and they almost always involve some level of discomfort and perhaps even slight distress. But after all that they turn out to be fun, fulfilling, and mightily instrumental to my personal growth whether it be spiritual, mental, or even physical (as this adventure surely has been!).

The most important aspect of adventure though, is the unknown. You cannot have adventure without taking some step toward something unfamiliar. That's the scary part, and it's the thrilling part, too. With every adventure I've wondered, "What am I doing?" "Is this right?" and every time I've come out knowing one more thing, having one more friend (or 22), and realizing that no matter where I go and what I do some things ALWAYS remain the same. People are still people. Love is still love. And spring, along with the leaves on the trees and the flowers from the ground, still comes every year.

Here's to the most fulfilling adventure of all: Life.

Write on!