Monday, November 9, 2015

I'm a Believer

This is going to be one short post, because my weekend slipped by, and then suddenlty I remembered: I'm up on HoF for Monday!

Fortunately, I have a topic handy that ties in with writing fast: National Novel Writing Month.

I'm doing Nanowrimo for the first time ever this year.

I confess, I've always been a skeptic about this event. Being a quality over quantity person, I've never been much into punching out words just to punch out words. Moving too fast toward a number goal seemed to me a sure recipe for having to spend double time on revisions later.

And who knows? Maybe I'm right. Maybe it takes just as much time to mull and agonize over wording while you go along, as it would to just throw whatever comes to mind into the manuscript and then go back later and...well, mull and agonize again.

Still. This year felt like the right year for me to give it a try. I happen to be working on a short novel that seemed amenable to the 50k challenge. Even more tempting, I knew if I took the challenge and succeeded, I could very well have this manuscript done by December.

Now, a week into the dare, I have just over 11,000 words written. Not quite on target to meet the 50k challenge, but well within range to accomplish my own personal goal. Needless to say, this gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

But there's more to this, really, than numbers. Nanowrimo has given me something very much unexpected, and also very welcome. For the first time in a long time, all that matters right now is my story. In a way, I'm reliving the early days of crafting my first novel, when every spare minute was devoted to discovery and creating. I remember this feeling, and have thought of it often in recent years with nostalgia.

Once published, it seems, it's hard for an author to enjoy that pure focus that inspires the first novel. There's just so much else getting in the way. Editing, marketing, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, book signing... the list goes on and on; a veritable truckload of writing related things demand our attention, leaving us with very little time to, well, write.

No matter how far I get on my word count this month, I'm grateful to Nanowrimo for allowing me to sink back into that spark that is the creative moment; to wallow in it, even, for a full month while everything else (even Heroines of Fantasy!) goes on hold.

So yes, Nanowrimo, this skeptic has become a believer. I may be back again next year, and the next, in only to keep in touch with the writer I most like to be.

How about you? Are you doing Nanowrimo? And how do you keep the creative focus alive when all those other writerly responsibilities get in the way?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday Review: Last Night at the Blue Alice

Title: Last Night at the Blue Alice
Author: Mehitobel Wilson
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal/Urban
Publisher: Bedlam Press
Publication date: September 2015
Point of sale: Amazon
Price: Kindle $2.99 or Paperback $9.95
Description: Mollie Chandler is on the verge of joining a shadowy Order whose magical operatives, the Glymjacks, manipulate events of the past. As the only candidate for the role of Psychopomp, she must pass one final test before the job is hers. The crumbling Blue Alice has been gathering ghosts for over a hundred years. Once a grand mansion, it was converted to a rooming house in the 1920s. Tenants throughout the century since have suffered violent poltergeist attacks by a vengeful spirit, complained of a spectral woman in black who looms and leers at their every move, reported hearing music when there should be none playing, and appealed to exorcists when tormented by a judgmental demon. Mollie must use magic, ingenuity, and intuition to travel back in time to the source of each haunting, avert their circumstances, and change history. If she succeeds, she will have to give up everything she’s ever known to become a Glymjack. If she fails, Mollie will not survive - if she’s lucky. The alternatives to death are far worse. Mollie has but one night to change the histories of the dead and plot the course for her own future. She is running out of time, and into the haunted heart of the Blue Alice.

Good morning! Cybelle here with another Wednesday review. This week I read an intriguing novella by Mehitobel Wilson. The Blue Alice is considered the most haunted house in the region, and it has been selected as the location of Mollie's final exam. In order to become a true psychopomp, she must travel back in time to intervene in the final moments of people's lives and prevent them from becoming the tortured spirits that haunt the place. When she returns to the present, she must give the details of the experience to her Second. During the course of the night, Mollie makes four trips to the past to correct the ghost problems in the old house. The first one goes smoothly, but the three following encounters present far greater challenges. Although Mollie succeeds in clearing the place of ghosts, she fears her methods will destroy her chances of joining the Glymjacks.

This novella is an engaging read and often quite funny. Each of Mollie's interventions would make great standalone stories, but they are beautifully linked through the framework of a final exam. It's an interesting twist on traditional haunted house stories. Although Wilson is best known for horror, this is more of a paranormal fantasy. Her research into various cultural beliefs surrounding death and haunting is clear throughout the novella and adds to its charm. The characters are well developed and memorable. The tale of the sad Goth girl, Gillian Frye, is both humorous and tragic. She sees Mollie as a ghost and is eager to communicate with her. Her death is the hardest for Mollie to process and forces her to reconsider the usefulness of her empathy in dealing with the dead. Her encounter with another young woman, Ruby, makes her question whether all hauntings are bad.

If you're in the mood for a quick, lighthearted read with horror elements, this is a good choice. You'll find references to classic horror films and classical antiquity, along with a great cast of well-drawn characters. Definitely a treat for anyone who already misses Halloween!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Apologies to Thanksgiving

Dear Thanksgiving,

Effective November 1st, all stores have officially transitioned from Halloween to Christmas. I would like to thoroughly apologize on behalf of American culture for, once again, forgetting all about you. I know this may sound insincere, but truly: it's not you, it's us.

Part of the problem is placement. Despite your great significance and firm roots in American history, unfortunately, you are nestled between Halloween and Christmas, which have both transitioned from somewhat modest holidays grounded in old religious and cultural traditions to grand displays of secular commercialism (just be glad you aren't Chanukah, or Ramadan-- they get even less cultural love than you). Let's face it, Thanksgiving: they are big, sparkly and fun, celebrated with lots of parties and freebies. You are old money; they are Gatsby. It isn't your fault that they suck up all of the attention, but there isn't really anything you can do about it, either. Sorry.

Another reason why we tend to slight you is cost. Halloween is a lot of effort, and has become quite expensive. We can't just buy some candy, flip on the light, hand it out to some cute kids in plastic tie-on costumes purchased at the drugstore, turn everything off when the candy's gone, and go to bed. No, the costumes are now either extravagant hand-made Cosplay or pricey Party City fare that clearly costs at least $40 a yard of fabric (or lack thereof). We have to decorate now, too: giant spiders (I'm looking at you, neighbors, and I really resent your 5-foot tarantula), sticky webs, orange sparkle lights, gravestones, mummies, skeletons, etc. At least $100 in candy must be purchased to avoid getting "tricked" by "children" varying in age from 0-60, and we haven't even discussed the cost of booze and snacks for parties. By the time November 1st rolls around, we're so broke that it's time to save for Christmas, and we all know what a financial burden that is. 

Another real problem here is time. To put it bluntly: we're exhausted from Halloween, and we now have less than two months until Christmas. I'm stressed just thinking about it. The retailers enjoy reminding of this fact hourly, with their cheerful "15 shopping days until Christmas!" countdowns and snappy jingles. You used to be a lovely little break in the chaos, but now, thanks to the miracle of commercialism, we can forego acknowledging you entirely in favor of that new little pseudo-holiday upstart "Black Friday" who has seriously encroached on your space.

Look, I really enjoy you. Having a few days off to give thanks for our blessings and remember the historical coming together that saved our colonists' asses so many years ago is really kind of amazing, especially when life seems to move at ever more frantic a pace. Taking time to reflect upon what is truly important to us, to our families, to each other, and to just sit together and be grateful for what we have, in every way that is important to us, is not something we can honor by putting giant sparkling pilgrims in our yard or dressing like hookers, but that doesn't make it any less valuable. We may not exchange physical gifts, but sitting down with those we love and giving them our time and attention-- two of the most elusive commodities in our fast-paced society-- are probably the best gifts we can share with one another. And need I mention that you come with turkey and pie? What are people thinking?!

Thanksgiving, I, for one, promise to do better this year. As much as I love these other holidays, this year I vow to push Christmas off just a little longer so that when you come around, we can really enjoy hanging out. As much as I like that Black Friday guy, I'm not letting him have my Thanksgiving Thursday. I and my family are going to hang out in our pajamas and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, enjoy a hearty meal, and above all, remember that the world needs a little more gratitude and a little less marketing. 

Maybe if we all slow down and spend a little more time being grateful for what we have and less time worrying about what we don't, we can all achieve some true peace. 

All the love,

Kim Vandervort